United Kingdom doubles funding to fight tropical diseases in developing world

Posted April 20, 2017

International Development Secretary Priti Patel said the UK's support would protect more than 200 million people "from a future blighted by tropical disease". In fact, public health programs might bring a neglected disease under control, if only they understood they have a resource at their disposal - donated drugs already exist for many of these diseases, says Jacobson.

The UK government is investing an extra £200m in programmes to fight neglected tropical diseases, which affect more than a billion people in the world's poorest countries.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Western countries and drug companies pledged fresh support on Wednesday to wipe out diseases that blind, disable and disfigure millions of poor in tropical areas each year and urged new donors to join the fight.

Zimbabwe is one of the countries battling NTDs and a year ago it was reported that the country could save $143 million if efforts are scaled to eliminate five of the NTDs, which include bilharzia and intestinal worms.

Furthermore, the number of new human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) cases have fallen from 37,000 in 1999 to less than 3,000 in 2015, while trachoma (one of the leading causes of blindness) has been eliminated in Mexico, Morocco, and Oman, according to the WHO.

"WHO has observed record-breaking progress towards bringing ancient scourges like sleeping sickness and elephantiasis to their knees", said WHO Director-General, Margaret Chan, MD, MPH, in a press release accompanying the report.

Christopher Fitzpatrick, health economist in the WHO's department of tropical diseases, told VOA that the socioeconomic costs in terms of lost productivity and out-of-pocket health expenditures by people infected with NTDs is very high.

The report described achievements made in controlling the debilitating diseases.

Following today's commitments, drug companies also will donate an average of 1.4 billion treatments per year to those in need.

"It's really a story of wonderful progress", the billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates said in Geneva. One in six people suffer from NTDs worldwide, including more than half a billion children.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has cited progress in the treatment of river blindness, which is a parasitic disease transmitted by black flies.

Responding to the announcement, Bill Gates said: "UK aid and Britain's world-leading research institutions are playing a major role in protecting the world's poorest people from NTDs and enabling them to live healthier, more prosperous lives".

"There's now nine countries that have been validated as eliminating lymphatic filariasis, on a national scale", said Jacobson, who added that the first country in Africa, Togo, was announced this week.

"Is that enough? No, there are still diseases that are neglected and we still have problems with access to basic medicines", he said.

"None of these diseases are getting worse", he said. "Some will take longer than that", Gates told a news conference, noting that there were only 3,000 cases of sleeping sickness past year. Guinea-worm disease is on track for eradication as only 25 human cases of the disease remain.

World Health Organization estimates that 2.4 billion people still lack basic sanitation facilities like toilets and latrines, while almost two billion use drinking water sources contaminated with faecal matter.