An Example To Follow: Japan's Historic Commitment To Infectious Disease Control

Jun 11, 2013 | Updated Aug 11, 2013

TOKYO, JAPAN -- A commonly known Japanese proverb states "to begin is easy; to continue is hard." This sentiment is something that the international development world knows all too well, especially when it comes to the ambitious agenda of the Group of Eight (G8). In the days leading up to this year's G8 summit, we look to members of the G8 to follow through on their commitments from past meetings -- particularly as they relate to improvements to global health and welfare.

Tackling diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, as well as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) is not only critical to the G8's work to improve global health, but also to reduce poverty and inequality. NTDs in particular are "diseases of poverty." Commonly found in parts of the world that lack resources, including clean water and sanitation. NTDs cause malnutrition, undermine worker productivity and prevent children from going to school. These diseases place those most at risk in an endless cycle of poverty that can only be broken through a sustained commitment to prevention and treatment.

To see the benefits of sustained commitment to international development through G8 leadership, we can look to Japan's efforts to control infectious disease at the global level:

Japan knows the far-reaching impact of infectious disease from personal experience. Following the end of World War II, Japan led an aggressive domestic campaign against soil-transmitted helminths, lymphatic filariasis, malaria and schistosomiasis, eliminating them as public health threats within 10 years.

But it didn't stop there -- Japan put its experience to work to benefit the greater global community. During the 1997 G7 summit, former Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto introduced the Hashimoto Initiative for Global Parasite Control, the first global initiative to demand international cooperation around parasitic disease control through research and program support. This pioneering NTD initiative helped bring attention to soil-transmitted helminths, which until then had little public visibility. As hosts of the 2000 and 2008 G8 summits, Japan further accelerated its commitments to infectious disease control -- including several NTDs -- through the 2000 Okinawa Infectious Disease Initiative and the 2008 Tokyo Framework for Action on Global Health.

Guatemala, along with other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, has worked together with Japan over the last decade to control infectious diseases. From 2000 to 2005, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) worked closely and successfully with the Guatemalan health ministry to stop the transmission of Chagas' disease -- a parasitic disease spread by a "kissing bug" that can be deadly. Honduras and Nicaragua also met the same milestone, with support from JICA.

Along with Japan, the United States and United Kingdom among others have been great advocates and sponsors of the important task of improving global health and preventing infectious disease. But there are more actions that all G8 members should take. For instance, specific targets for NTD control should be included in G8 accountability reports moving forward. G8 countries should also individually pledge additional resources and offer technical expertise to accelerate NTD control efforts, especially as the international community seeks to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and create lasting change in the formation of the post-2015 development agenda.

As we can see from successes in Japan, and in Latin America and the Caribbean, stopping infectious disease is a goal we can achieve within a matter of years, not a generation or lifetime. The January 2012 London Declaration set an important precedent in bringing together stakeholders from across government, industry and civil society to pledge their commitments to eliminating these diseases as public health threats by 2020.

But this can only be possible with the continued support from Japan and other members of the G8. The seven most common NTDs still infect approximately one in six people worldwide, including half a billion children. Eliminating these diseases as public health threats by the end of the decade will require new commitments as well as sustained investments from existing partners and countries fighting these diseases. Though it may not always be easy, there are great rewards for persistence, notably sustainable, lasting results and a better future for millions of people.

Learn more about how G8 countries can help end neglected tropical diseases.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the NGO alliance InterAction around the G8 summit being held in Northern Ireland, June 17-18. For the next eight days, we will be featuring one post from an NGO based in each of the G8 countries -- this piece is from Japan -- and then one blog from the vantage point of the developing world. To see all the posts in the series, click here. For more information on InterAction, click here. And follow the conversation on Twitter with hashtag #DearG8.