In this PLoS “Speaking of Medicine” blog post, Julien Potet and Katy Athersuch of Medecins Sans Frontieres’ (MSF) Access Campaign say that the WHO’s decision last week to “simply continue monitoring” the medical research and development (R&D) industry’s ability to address the needs of people living in developing countries “by creating a global R&D ‘observatory'” is “a deeply disappointing outcome that will not help re-shape priorities, increase funding or catalyze development of urgently needed new medical tools; at best it will only underscore further how badly these actions are needed.” They discuss how access to new tools, technologies, and treatments “can save lives” and some of the progress made in expanding R&D. Advocates’ “pressure will be critical for engaging governments and mobilizing the public leadership needed to support the research for cures that millions of neglected patients await,” they conclude (12/6).
Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)
“The World Health Organization (WHO) established a global monitoring framework for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) at a Geneva meeting on November 9, 2012 — a little over a year after the U.N. General Assembly adopted a political declaration on NCDs,” Management Sciences for Health’s “Global Health Impact” blog reports, noting Ambassador Betty King, permanent representative of the U.S. to the U.N. and other international organizations in Geneva, announced the framework in November. “MSH commends Ambassador Betty King, WHO member states, along with civil society and industry partnerships, for their leadership on this framework for tackling NCDs,” the blog writes (Sangiwa, 12/4).
“[T]here’s no generally accepted definition” for what characterizes a neglected disease, Kaitlin Christenson, coalition director for the Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC), writes in the Results for Development Institute’s “Center for Global Health R&D Policy Assessment” blog. “[W]e at the [GHTC] tend to think of ‘neglected’ in terms of the urgent need for tools to prevent, diagnose, treat, and generally improve the health of people in low- and middle-income countries around the world,” she writes, adding, therefore, “we need to adapt the way we think about neglected health needs worldwide to reflect conditions — like pregnancy and reproductive health needs — that impact people worldwide, in addition to infectious diseases.” She continues, “Perhaps instead of framing our thinking around neglected diseases, we should instead consider a different term: neglected conditions,” concluding, “By changing our definition of neglected diseases to include neglected conditions, the U.S. government and other governments, donors, and advocates can make an even greater impact on health worldwide” (12/3).
“International financial support aimed at counteracting the world’s ‘neglected diseases’ increased by nearly a half-billion dollars over the past five years, according to new research released Monday, but changing funding dynamics could already be having a negative impact on the development of cures for diseases that affect a substantial proportion of the world’s poor,” Inter Press Service reports. “While funding for these diseases had begun to pick up, the new Global Funding of Innovation for Neglected Diseases (G-FINDER) report [.pdf] finds that this assistance has decreased again following the international financial crisis,” the news service writes, adding, “More worrying, funding for research into these diseases remains highly dependent on a tiny number of players,” including the U.S. (Biron, 12/3).
Pharma Companies Improving Access To Medicines But Lack Oversight Of Outsourced Clinical Trials, Analysis Says
Pharmaceutical companies are showing “greater accountability in the boardroom today over access to medicines, with more openness, targets and investment in drugs relevant to the poor,” but they “show no evidence that they adequately supervise the conduct of outsourced clinical drug trials, according to a new analysis released on Wednesday,” the Financial Times reports (Jack, 11/28). Published every two years, the Access to Medicine Index “ranks the world’s 20 biggest drug companies,” BBC News notes, adding, “GlaxoSmithKline remains at the top of the index, followed closely by Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi.”
“This weekend, President Obama made a historic visit to Myanmar, becoming the first U.S. President to visit the country,” the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases’ “End the Neglect” blog reports, noting, “In his address, the President celebrated the country’s shift towards democracy, and the efforts of its inspirational leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.” The blog continues, “President Obama’s visit also gives us an opportunity to celebrate the commitment and achievements of Myanmar in combating neglected tropical diseases (NTDs),” noting, “Myanmar’s Ministry of Health has taken major steps in the right direction to control and eliminate these diseases” (11/21).
“In October 1987, Roy Vagelos, then the chief executive of [pharmaceutical company] Merck, launched the largest pharmaco-philanthropic venture ever,” William Foege, an epidemiologist and former director of the CDC, writes in a Washington Post opinion piece highlighting the company’s efforts to combat onchocerciasis in the developing world through the free distribution of its drug Mectizan. Initially developed to protect dogs against heartworms, Merck found a human version of the drug “could inhibit the microfilaria of onchocerciasis for a year with a single dose,” Foege continues, adding, “Merck said that it would supply the drug as long as it was needed. Extended surveillance has shown this to be one of the safest drugs ever developed.”
The focus of the Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases: Translating the London Declaration into Action conference, which took place November 16-18 in Washington, D.C., was “how we can work together to put the right systems in place and implement the change needed” to control or eliminate neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) by 2020, Simon Bush, director of NTDs at Sightsavers, writes in the Huffington Post U.K.’s “Impact” blog. Sponsored by the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the conference brought together pharmaceutical company executives, non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives, academics, government officials, and representatives of the World Bank, WHO and other groups, Bush says.
“‘Hundreds of millions of children and adults in Africa live at risk of disfigurement, impaired development, blindness, and even death from seven major preventable so-called neglected tropical diseases [NTDs], including river blindness, elephantiasis, trachoma, and various types of intestinal parasites,’ said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim at the opening of a November 16-18 conference in Washington D.C.: Uniting to Combat NTDs: Translating the London Declaration into Action,” the World Bank reports in an article on its webpage. “Using community health systems to deliver treatments donated by the private sector, over 80 million people a year are now protected from river blindness in Africa,” the article states, adding, “Learning from what worked in this effort and using the same system, the World Bank and many other partners are now working to push back all seven major neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that can be prevented through medication (river blindness, elephantiasis, trachoma, roundworm, whipworm, hookworm, and bilharzia) but continue to place hundreds of millions of poor people at risk on the African continent” (11/17).
“It happened quietly, and it didn’t make any headlines, but an agreement reached in Geneva last week represents a key step forward in the battle against some of the world’s biggest killers: non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes,” Ambassador Betty King, permanent representative of the United States to the U.N., writes in the U.S. Department of State’s “DipNote” blog. She continues, “The WHO’s landmark agreement on NCDs is a remarkable demonstration of political will. By establishing a global monitoring framework based on nine voluntary benchmarks, and assessments of 25 risk factors and indicators, we have taken a historic next step towards global action to prevent cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other NCDs.” King notes the framework agreement “will be submitted to the WHO governing bodies in 2013 for final adoption” (11/14).