Neglected tropical diseases get attention

Neglected tropical diseases got very high-profile attention Monday morning when the World Health Organization, nine global pharmaceutical companies, U.S. and United Kingdom government agencies, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced the formation of partnership to increase the fight against diseases that harm more than a billion people in developing countries.

The link to the web cast is here.

The hope is to eliminate five diseases and control five more by 2020, and then figure out the rest.

For the record, according to the WHO site, the 17 Neglected Tropical Diseases are:

  • Dengue
  • Rabies
  • Blinding trachoma
  • Buruli ulcer
  • Endemic treponematoses (yaws)
  • Leprosy (Hansen disease)
  • Chagas disease
  • Human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness)
  • Leishmaniasis
  • Cysticercosis
  • Dracunculiasis (guinea-worm disease)
  • Echinococcosis
  • Food-borne trematode infections
  • Lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis)
  • Onchocerciasis (river blindness)
  • Schistosomiasis (bilharziasis)
  • Soil transmitted helminthiases (intestinal worms)

Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, was scheduled to join Bill Gates and nine pharmaceutical chiefs in discussing the challenge Monday in London.

Gates foundation announced a donation of $750 million last week to bolster efforts to fight infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis and malaria.

The Gates Foundation's promised NTD donation for product and operational research was $363 million over five years.

“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 announcing the arrangement. “This innovative approach must serve as a model for solving other global development challenges and will help millions of people build self-sufficiency and overcome the need for aid.”

GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Merck, all of which have Philadelphia-area operations, were among the pharmaceutical companies joining the effort with contributions of drugs that help fight such ailments and more research into cures.

The U.S. government's Agency for International Development (USAID) and its British counterpart, the UK Department for International Development joined the effort, which is coordinated by the WHO.

Pfizer said in statement, "Pfizer proudly stands today with the many public and private organizations uniting to help eliminate or control 10 neglected tropical diseases by 2020. In what is being referred to as the ‘London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases,’ partners pledge coordinated efforts to address the world’s most persistent health challenges by accelerating research and development of new treatments, sustaining drug donation and discounting programs and increasing funding for NTD drug delivery and implementation initiatives."

GlaxoSmithKline Chief Executive Officer Andrew Witty said in a statement, "I am delighted to announce that GSK is part of this united effort to free future generations from the burden of neglected tropical diseases," "We fully support the WHO’s bold vision and we are committed to playing our part in helping to achieve universal coverage of intervention programs for diseases that can be controlled or eliminated by existing treatments, and to spur R&D into new treatments for diseases where none currently exist. Through this new partnership, we have both the means and the energy to strike a decisive blow against disease in the world’s poorest countries.”

The WHO road map for this program is here.

The neglected diseases are not currently wide-spread problems in the United States, but they do show up occasionally, sometimes with surprising factors.

For example, the New England Journal reported in April 2011 that there are only about 150 cases of leprosy per year in the United States, but it also saw a connection with armadillos in Texas and Louisiana. That story is here.