March 21, 2012
Crusade to Fight 10 Tropical Diseases
By Pat Landowska
Thirteen major pharmaceutical companies, government groups and health charities will work together in a push to eliminate or control by 2020 10 tropical diseases that affect more than a billion people in poor countries. The partners, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, call it the largest coordinated effort ever to combat neglected tropical diseases.
The government groups and charities alone are committing just over $785 million in new funding. The companies also will work together to speed up development of new treatments, and the partners will work on improving drug delivery and treatment programs, including prevention and education.
“These ancient diseases are now being brought to their knees with stunning speed,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, the organization’s director-general.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the project’s biggest donor, with a five-year, $363 million donation to support research and operations.
“Today, we have joined together to increase the impact of our investments and build on the tremendous progress made to date,” Bill Gates said in a statement, adding that improving people’s health would help them become self-sufficient.
According to the Gates Foundation, more than a billion people – more than half of them children – are affected by neglected tropical diseases, which either kill or cause malnutrition, serious disability, disfigurement and even social discrimination.
The diseases are common in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia and contribute to poverty. They are caused by worms and microscopic parasites or infections, generally acquired from insect bites, contaminated drinking water, or contact with infected people.
In Niger, where we work, three of the 10 diseases on the list, Guinea worm, bilharzia and trachoma are very prevalent. They all are caused by contaminated water. Untreated trachoma leads to blindness. 40% of Nigeriens suffer from it, including one-third of children under the age of ten. Guinea worm lives and grows in a human body causing acute pain, swelling, and itching. Bilharzia is a water-borne parasite that although not deadly can severely damage internal organs. It is the most devastating parasitic disease after malaria.
We salute the Gates Foundation and drug companies for including these diseases on their list. The challenge, however, is getting these drugs to the villagers. In a recent trip to Niger, the Wells Bring Hope team traveled 2 1/2 hours one way over very rough dirt roads, through the desert, to reach remote villages. We will be interested to know what steps are being taken to deliver these much-needed drugs to the remote areas that most need them.