Poverty related and neglected tropical diseases or diseases of the poor and neglected?
Sleeping sickness, leprosy, dengue, parasitic worms, all these so-called neglected tropical diseases or “NTDs” are known to us. In addition, they are also widespread: they represent 10 per cent of the global burden of diseases and led to 35, 000 deaths per year, as French Minister of Social Affairs of France, Marisol Touraine, stated. Yet they are still labelled as ‘neglected’.
“NTDs are not neglected because they are unknown to public opinion or to policy-makers but because the populations they affect are too often neglected” Marisol Touraine, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health of France
Indeed these diseases affect the world’s most vulnerable people mostly living in low- and middle-income countries, in particular women and children. Furthermore, poverty-related diseases, namely HIV and AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis show resurgence in middle- and upper-income countries including in the EU.
But most of these diseases can be treated.
On Wednesday April 2nd, I had the opportunity to attend a stakeholder meeting followed by an evening panel under the title “Uniting to combat Neglected Tropical Diseases” organised by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. All types of stakeholders dedicated to eliminate neglected diseases were gathered in the prestigious Institut Pasteur: academic, researchers, representatives from World Health Organization, World Bank, African Ministries of health, donors, NGOs, and pharmaceutical industry.
Numbers show that a lot remains to be done. For instance, every hour, four people go blind due to trachoma. Likewise, sleeping sickness still accounts for 7,000 cases each year while the disease was almost eradicated a few decades ago.
Progress made thanks to renewed efforts to develop new delivery mechanisms, new vaccines and prevention tools, diagnostic methods and, treatments against these diseases were also celebrated. According to the latest WHO data for 2009-2013, 47 million were treated against trachoma. Moreover, Bill Gates highlighted recent innovations on sleeping sickness treatment: new shortened and simplified treatment, with a new oral pill for cure and a new diagnostics finger print.
“Innovative partnerships can make a huge difference for this over 1 million of people affected by NTDs, especially women and children” Dr Margaret Chan, Director General WHO
These innovations were made possible through partnerships between all actors. These renewed efforts have been cemented with the 2012 London declaration on NTDs. Collaboration is being intensified not only with donations of 1.4 billion treatments but also by ensuring delivery of the drugs all the way to the people in need. With limited resources, new delivery programmes would need to be developed to leverage synergies: integration with other programmes such as vaccination campaigns, maternal, and new born health, tuberculosis, malaria, etc.
“What has started with drug donations needs to go further, Christopher A. Viehbacher, CEO Sanofi”
Most of the so-called neglected diseases indeed do not have any adequate nor affordable prevention methods, diagnostics or treatments. Public private partnerships and innovative collaboration are helping develop new and improved health solutions with for example heat stability vaccines initiatives or adapted treatments for children.
This event demonstrated that diseases that were neglected before are now at the center of a new movement. With key moments ahead of us, it is important to redouble our efforts.
Today, the EU will reaffirm its leadership on investing in R&D to tackle poverty-related and neglected tropical diseases (PRNDs). Indeed the EU is essentially supporting research and development on these diseases through the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP).Today, the EU regulation for the second phase of this partnership will be voted on by the European Parliament, paving the way to its entry into force expected in May 2014.
Next month, the World Health Assembly will also discuss the future Every newborn action plan (ENAP); this could also be an opportunity to integrate programmes for reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health including prevention and treatments on these diseases.