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Issuing First Report On NTDs, WHO Aims For ‘Complete Control’ By 2015

The WHO “said on Thursday that it was aiming for ‘complete control’ by 2015 of tropical diseases that affect one billion impoverished people” and kill an estimated 534,000 people each year, Agence France-Presse reports (10/14).

The WHO issued its first report on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) Thursday, which “urged governments and donors to invest more in tackling 17 diverse infections often shunned by researchers, which can cause blindness, heart damage and death,” Reuters reports. The news service continues: “Leading drug makers have already provided high-quality medicines free of charge for hundreds of millions of poor people suffering from such diseases, mainly in remote areas of Latin America, Asia and Africa, according to the WHO” (Nebehay, 10/14).

The report “identified 17 diseases and disease groups present in 149 countries. Thirty countries have six or more of the diseases,” the Associated Press reports. According to WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, these diseases “cause massive but hidden and silent suffering, and frequently kill, but not in the numbers comparable to the deaths caused by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria” (Barry, 10/14).

“The report provides a catalogue of human misery and its geographical distribution, but it also sets out a solid body of evidence suggesting that victory is in sight for several of these diseases. In fact, if we keep doing the right things better, and on a larger scale, some of these diseases could be eliminated by 2015, and others by 2020,” Chan said at the launch of the report, according to an agency transcript (10/14).

The report “also recommends doing a better job of identifying the diseases, improving sanitation and controlling insects and animals, which can spread the diseases into human populations,” the AP continues.  In addition, the report addresses the added stigma for women and girls and the link between NTDs and poverty. NTDs can “’cause disfigurement and disability, leading to stigma and social discrimination,’ diminishing marriage prospects and raising the likelihood of abandonment for women and girls, the report said,” AP writes (10/14).

“‘While the scale of the need for prevention and treatment is huge, the poverty of those affected limits their access to interventions and the services needed to deliver them,’ WHO Director General Margaret Chan said in the report,” AFP writes. “Diseases linked to poverty likewise offer little incentive to industry to invest in developing new or better products for a market that cannot pay,” Chan said (10/14).

Chan also highlighted that “‘Substantial funds’ were coming from private foundations and governments, while medical research has grown and pharmaceutical companies have made ‘generous drug donations’ to treat some neglected tropical diseases,” Reuters writes (10/14).  

Drug Companies Tackle NTDs

Also on Thursday, U.K. drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline “said it is expanding the supply of its donated ‘de-worming’ treatment albendazole by 400 million pills to bring the total given away … to 1 billion tablets per year, enabling the World Health Organization to achieve universal coverage of school-age children in Africa against intestinal worms by the end of next year,” the Dow Jones writes (Stovall, 10/13). Andrew Witty, Glaxo’s chief executive, said, “When combined with existing de-worming programs, this quantity should be sufficient to achieve universal coverage of school-age children across the whole of Africa,” Reuters adds. “Carrying worms contributes to malnutrition, slow growth and development, and hookworm associated anemia in women of child-bearing age contributes significantly to low birth weight and excess infant mortality,” the news service writes.

The article notes that “Johnson & Johnson has also promised to increase spending on efforts to fight intestinal worms in children, with the hope of donating 200 million doses a year of its treatment mebendazole as part of a five-year aid plan for women and children” (Kelland, 10/14).

AFP reports that Sanofi Aventis CEO Chris Viehbacher “said the pharmaceutical group would devote 25 million dollars to the WHO for neglected diseases in the form of medicines and cash for the WHO over five years. ‘We are not forgetting neglected diseases. We are determined to work in a partnership,’ he said” (10/14).

Carter Center Receives $1M From OPEC Fund To Bolster Guinea Worm, River Blindness Eradication Effort

Former President Jimmy Carter “says his mission to eradicate two diseases that have affected millions in some of the world’s poorest nations is nearly complete,” the AP reports. Carter announced that efforts against Guinea worm disease and river blindness have been bolstered by two $500,000 grants from the OPEC Fund for International Development. According to the AP, “[t]he grant to fight Guinea worm will be matched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.” A coalition led by the Carter Center “has reduced Guinea worm disease worldwide by more than 99 percent” since 1986, the news service notes (10/13).

“The last cases of a disease in an eradication or elimination effort are always the most difficult and expensive to address, and this is why The Carter Center is grateful to have the support of OFID as we rid the Americas of river blindness and the world of Guinea worm disease,” Carter said, according to a press release (10/12).