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Five-fold US funding boost for neglected tropical diseases

23 February 2008, 17:37

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US$350 million over five years to control seven neglected tropical diseases, which might be eliminated from 30 high-burden countries if G8 in July comes up with another US$650 million. That’s what the US is promising in a new Presidential Initiative for NTD control”. And – it is science-based, even though the research was done on the cheap.

President Bush announced last week – during his tour of Africa – that the US will increase its funding for the control for seven neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) from the present US$15 million a year to US$70 million a year for five years from 2009 – nearly a five fold increase over that period.

The new US$350-million “Presidential Initiative for NTD Control” will build on the current annual US$15-million programme of integrated control supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The existing USAID programme is working in 10 countries in 2008, and will grow to 30 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America by 2013.

The initiative will deliver free and effective drugs to 300 million people – about one third of those affected by seven of the NTDs: lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), onchocerciasis (river blindness), schistosomiasis (snail fever), trachoma (a blinding eye infection), plus hookworm, roundworm and whip worm.

For the remaining two-thirds of those affected by these seven diseases President Bush called on the rich countries attending the next G8 on 7-9 July in Hokkaido, Japan, to come up with another US$650 million, which would bring the total world commitment against these NTDs to US$1 billion from 2009-13.

The White House estimates this would be enough to eliminate the diseases in “high-burden countries” in all three continents.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan welcomed the news. “These are blinding, deforming, and debilitating diseases that affect the poorest of the poor. An intensified attack on these diseases delivers a blow against the poverty of millions of people” she said.

WHO and its multiple partners, including USAID, have established a firm foundation for moving forward with unprecedented speed – and the best-yet prospects for success” Chan added. “Highly effective drugs are available, and many are being donated by industry in large quantities. Strategies for integrated delivery have been devised, streamlining operational requirements and reducing costs. Moreover, the drugs are safe and simple to administer and all at-risk populations can be treated – an approach to mass prevention similar to that of childhood immunization. Efforts to increase coverage can begin immediately.”

Tropical disease researchers have been campaigning for such a commitment for several years, so the policy and programme can be described as research-based, even though there remains controversy on whether such moneys are best spent on these diseases or others, or on national health system strengthening.

Yet the programme is based on very little research funding. One of the researcher-campaigners, David Molyneux, President of the UK Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, pointed out in his inaugural address in November that the NTDs had received R&D funds amounting to under US$1 per disability funded life year (DALY), compared to US$102 for diabetes, US$63 for cardiovascular diseases, US$24 for HIV/AIDS, US$11 for tuberculosis and US$6 for malaria. NTDs accounted for 24% of all infectious disease DALYs, he said.

NTDs shackle the world’s poorest in poverty -the bottom billion or more – where there no roads, no doctors, no drugs, where hunger is greatest and food security least, where incomes are lowest, where health information is least, and where the need is greatest” said Molyneux.

Molyneux named 13 tropical infectious diseases which cause “immense suffering, life-long disabilities, impair childhood growth and development, promote poverty, impair education and economic development”. Seven of them are covered by President Bush’s initiative.

Molyneux’s address (see link below) also included data from several countries supporting the contention that at least some of the NTDs could be eliminated by a concerted attack such as that proposed in the Presidential Initiative for NTD Control.


The White House statement

USAID response and factsheet

Response of WHO Director-General Margaret Chan

Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene home page, with a downloadable 4.4 Mb PDF of David Molyneux’s inaugural address

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