UK launches new initiative against neglected tropical diseases

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 23 January 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e581
  1. Peter Moszynski
  1. 1London

The UK government has announced a fivefold increase in spending on combating neglected tropical diseases as part of an international effort to help rid the world of a group of infectious diseases that currently affect one billion people and kill more than half a million every year.

The move comes ahead of a conference hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in London on 30 January, when governments, charities, multilateral organisations, and the private sector will unite “to help consign the diseases to history.”

Britain’s increased aid—raised from £50m to £245m (€290m; $390m) between 2011 and 2015—focuses largely on four diseases: lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), onchocerciasis (river blindness), schistosomiasis (bilharzia) and dracunculiasis (guinea worm disease).

The UK minister for international development, Stephen O’Brien, told the BMJ that the initiative was intended to take the “‘neglected’ out of ‘neglected tropical diseases’” and to “not just save lives but transform them.”

He said, “By preventing the spread of these diseases and treating their victims, we will enable them to go to school and work so that they can help themselves out of poverty.”

He added that the initiative will “help make guinea worm the second human disease ever to be eradicated in history by 2015, help secure the elimination of elephantiasis and river blindness, and protect millions more from bilharzia.”

He said it was a “tragedy” that the lives of millions of the world’s poorest people are still being destroyed by “these ancient and avoidable tropical diseases,” which “thrive on poverty and have horrendous consequences for sufferers.”

People with these diseases “have been neglected for too long,” but fortunately countries are “increasingly coming together to build on the longstanding commitment of the pharmaceutical industry to rid the world of these terrible diseases, which disable, blind, and kill millions every year.”

Michal Fishman, a spokesman for the Gates Foundation, told the BMJ: “Now more than ever we have a real opportunity to help people build self sufficiency and overcome the need for aid. Uniting private, public, and civil sector partners against a common global development goal can significantly increase our impact and accelerate efforts to help improve the lives of the billion people suffering from NTDs.”

Daniel Berman, deputy director of Médecins Sans Frontières’ access campaign, said that he was “very encouraged that Britain is taking a global leadership among donors” and that this increased financial support was “significant.”

However, he noted that the plan will “primarily focus on worm diseases that can be mostly controlled by preventive chemotherapy through mass drug administration campaigns at community level.”

He said that such diseases are increasingly recognised as a priority, but there was concern that this “underplayed the importance of other diseases that the World Health Organization has prioritised as neglected.” These life threatening vectorborne diseases include human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) and visceral leishmaniasis (kala-azar), “which require further development of drugs and diagnostics better suited to resource poor environments.”

He warned that Belgium’s proposed withdrawal of its annual $2.5m funding for its trypanosomiasis programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo next year “would send entirely the wrong message.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e581