January 30th, 2012
06:00 AM ET
Less than a week after the the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced it would give $750 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the foundation has pledged $363 million to target neglected tropical diseases over five years.
The Gates Foundation, along with 13 pharmaceutical companies, the World Bank, other global health organizations and the governments of the U.S., U.K. and United Arab Emirates, announced the effort Monday. It's called the London Declaration on Neglected Diseases.
The goal is to eliminate 10 neglected tropical diseases by the end of the decade by expanding the drug donations, providing about $785 million to support research and development, and efforts to address treatment.
The diseases include Guinea worm, lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), blinding trachoma (an infectious eye disease), sleeping sickness and leprosy, soil-transmitted helminthes (intestinal worms), schistosomiasis (parasitic infection), river blindness, Chagas disease (parasitic disease) and visceral leishmaniasis (sandfly infection).
The 13 pharmaceutical companies have signed on to donate an average of 1.4 billion treatments, such as tablets to treat elephantiasis, donations to treat sleeping sickness, and drugs to treat worm infection.
In the past, drug companies have been accused of ignoring tropical diseases in favor of developing drugs targeted towards first-world health problems.
The participating drug companies are: AstraZeneca, Abbott, Bayer HealthCare AG, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eisai, Gilead, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, MSD, Novartis, Pfizer and Sanofi.
“Our members and researchers around the world applaud this unprecedented level of international cooperation to improve the lives of the 1.4 billion people around the world who are disabled, blinded and suffer needlessly from neglected tropical diseases,” according to a statement released by American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
As part of the effort against neglected diseases, the Gates foundation has pledged $23.3 million toward eradicating Guinea worm. The foundation named after Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife, has invested more than $100 million in the effort to eradicate Guinea worm disease.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation will together contribute $40 million to end Guinea worm disease by 2015, the Carter Center, based in Atlanta, Georgia, announced Monday.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center have led public health efforts tackling neglected diseases most Americans have never heard of. The Carter Center began its campaign to get rid of the Guinea worm in 1986 and have come closer each year to eradicating the disease.
The disease remains in three sub-Saharan African countries: Mali, Ethiopia and Southern Sudan.
Unlike smallpox, the Guinea worm disease is not fatal. But there is no treatment for it and there's no vaccine to prevent infection either, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This disease can, however, cause permanent disabilities to people, crippling their livelihood and local economies. The key to eradicating the disease is access to clean water and changes in people's behavior because the parasitic Guinea worm lives in stagnant water. When a person drinks the contaminated water, the worm grows inside its human host for a year until it emerges through the skin, causing great pain and in some cases, infections.
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