SEATTLE — The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged cooperative action with private and public partners to combat Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). The coordinated effort includes providing $785 million to support research and development, increase drug distribution and implementation programs, create a new drug through combined research efforts and “sustain or expand existing drug donation programs.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), NTDs are communicable diseases found in tropical and subtropical regions in 149 countries around the world. More than one billion people are affected by NTDs, costing developing countries more than a billion dollars every year. The diseases typically affect people living in poverty, without access to sufficient sanitation and in direct contact with infected carriers, livestock and domestic animals. NTDs can cause blindness, cognitive impairments, anemia, pregnancy complications and ultimately result in thousands of deaths per year.
In 2012, 13 pharmaceutical companies, the U.S., U.K. and UAE governments, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank and other global health organizations announced a united effort to increase progress toward eliminating NTDs by 2020. In alliance with NTD-affected countries, partners vowed to combine resources and information to enhance the lives of 1.4 billion people affected by NTDs.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged a five-year commitment and contributed $363 million towards NTD research and development. The private foundation’s goal is to decrease NTDs that affect the world’s most poverty-stricken people “through targeted and effective control, elimination, and eradication efforts.”
According to Bill Gates, progress toward eliminating NTDs is facilitated through a systematic “country by country” reduction strategy and safe distribution of drugs to infected areas. The united partnership committed to combating 10 NTDs such as Guinea worm, sleeping sickness and leishmaniasis. “We have a lot of allies in this war, the drug companies actually donate over a billion doses a year,” Gates told Bloomberg.
Last year, the Gates Foundation treated only 35 cases of Guinea worm. The parasitic infection is contracted when people drink stagnant water contaminated with Guinea worm larvae. Gates believes they are quickly moving towards zero cases, however, there are challenges. The war in South Sudan has prevented the foundation from certifying the area due to the civil unrest and will hold it back by two to three years.
The foundation often works in difficult rural areas. “The quality of execution has to be a constant effort,” Gates says. “We do have much better ability to go out and survey where the disease is, get reports back on mobile phones, we’ve made it quite a bit more coordinated and efficient.” The Gates Foundation and cooperative partners are happy with this progress they have made in the last five years.
– Madison O’Connell