The Expanded Special Project for the Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (ESPEN) was established through a collaborative effort between the WHO Regional Office for Africa (AFRO), Member States, and NTD partners. Its aim is to mobilize political, technical, and financial resources to alleviate the burden of the five most prevalent Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) in Africa that can be addressed through preventive chemotherapy (PC) via Mass Drug Administration (MDA). These diseases include lymphatic filariasis (LF), onchocerciasis (Oncho), soil-transmitted helminths (STH), schistosomiasis (SCH), and trachoma (TRA).
ESPEN operates on principles of transparency and accountability, serving as a coordinating entity among partners and stakeholders. It provides technical and operational support to endemic countries in their efforts to control and eliminate these debilitating diseases. ESPEN's core team is located in the WHO/AFRO office in Brazzaville, with a presence in WHO/AFRO country offices (WCOs) across Africa. The organization assists governments in strengthening their NTD programs, working towards sustainability, and integrating NTD control, treatment, and prevention into their health systems.
ESPEN collaborates directly with the Ministries of Health (MOH), stakeholders of NTD control programs, and the NTD community to amplify the impact of NTD control and elimination initiatives. It offers platforms for governments to request medicines, share and access data, and enhance the capacity of NTD program staff. ESPEN's scope covers the 47 countries within the WHO Africa Regional Office (AFRO) and five countries in the WHO Regional Eastern Mediterranean Office (EMRO): Sudan, Egypt, Somalia, Djibouti, and Yemen.
The expanded special project for elimination of NTDs (ESPEN) was established in 2016 to tackle the leading NTDs in Africa, that are amenable to preventive chemotherapy. Over the last 7 years, ESPEN has emerged as a model public-private partnership, consolidating investments for PC-NTDs elimination goals to cover gaps in countries, mobilize partners and convene national programs for capacity strengthening in data and NTD medicines supply chain, and alignment of country NTD plans to WHO targets.
By 2020, ESPEN had supported forty-five Member States in the WHO Africa Region (except Algeria and Cabo Verde) in finalizing and implementing their NTD master plans. All 40 endemic countries had achieved full mapping for three PC-NTDs, LF, SCH, and STH, covering at least 2500 districts in 37 countries through the AFRO mapping project. The geographical coverage of MDA for the five PC-NTDs increased in all the endemic Member States with 38 countries achieving 100% geographical coverage for at least one PC-NTD while all other endemic countries had started MDA campaigns for at least one disease. During this period, EPSEN facilitated the donation of 2.7 billion tablets to countries in the WHO.
Africa region. The number of people requiring preventive chemotherapy in the region reduced from 592 million in 2016 to 588 million in 2019 as a result of a shift from MDA to post-MDA surveillance. During the same period, ESPEN was part of regional achievements that saw Ghana validated for having achieved the elimination of trachoma as a public health problem in 2018, while Togo and Malawi were validated for eliminating LF as a public health problem in 2017 and 2020 respectively.
The ESPEN Portal
The ESPEN Portal is an electronic platform designed to enable health ministries and stakeholders to share and exchange subnational program data, in support of the NTD control and elimination goals.
Through this Portal, ESPEN illustrates, in the form of maps, site and district-level data that can be aggregated by disease and country. These maps, along with the downloadable underlying data, are tools to aid health officials and their partners in boosting and developing NTD interventions and strategies to reach key targeted communities.
ESPEN aims to equip all stakeholders with the evidence they need to successfully tackle each disease, mobilize resources more efficiently and target interventions appropriately.