Leaders of governments, pharmaceutical companies and charitable organisations made new commitments to control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in Geneva this week.
The summit coincided with the launch of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) fourth report on NTDs, showing progress against these debilitating diseases.
The meeting comes five years after the launch of the London Declaration, when the public and private sectors committed to control or eradicate ten NTDs by 2020. Since then billions of treatments have been donated by pharma companies and administered in nearly 150 countries.
The WHO report showed that more people are getting treatment than ever before. In 2015, nearly a billion people received treatments donated by pharmaceutical companies for at least one NTD, a 36 percent increase since 2011, the year before the launch of the London Declaration.
As more districts, countries and regions eliminate NTDs, the number of people requiring treatments has decreased from 2 billion in 2010 to 1.6 billion in 2015. This is good progress but much remains to be done.
Progress against NTDs has been enabled by donations of drugs from pharma companies. In the five years since the London Declaration, companies have donated over seven billion treatments that, with the support of partners, now reach nearly 1 billion people every year. These donations, worth an estimated $19 billion from 2012 - 2020, greatly multiply the impact of cash donations with each dollar invested in delivery leveraging $26 worth of donated drugs.
In addition to donations, pharma companies are working with each other and with research institutes to discover and develop new tools to prevent, diagnose and treat NTDs.
Industry leaders reaffirmed their 2012 pledge to do their part to beat these diseases. “The London Declaration is a powerful example of the impact of successful partnerships,” said Haruo Naito, CEO of Eisai and an original signatory of the London Declaration. “By leveraging our resources and focusing on a common goal, we are already making unprecedented progress towards eliminating these horrific diseases,” he said.
“WHO has observed record-breaking progress towards bringing ancient scourges like sleeping sickness and elephantiasis to their knees,” said WHO Director-General, Margaret Chan. “Over the past 10 years, millions of people have been rescued from disability and poverty, thanks to one of the most effective global partnerships in modern public health.”
The WHO report details progress against each disease. Highlights include:
- Lymphatic filariasis racing toward finish line: In the last year, eight countries (Cambodia, Cook Islands, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Niue, Sri Lanka, Togo and Vanuatu) eliminated this disease and 10 other countries are waiting on surveillance results to verify elimination. The number of people globally requiring preventative treatment has dropped from 1.4 billion in 2011 to fewer than 950 million in 2015.
- Fewest-ever cases of human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness): In 2015, there were fewer reported cases of sleeping sickness than any other year in history, with fewer than 3,000 cases worldwide – an 89 per cent reduction since 2000. Innovative vector control and diagnostic technologies, supported by increasing numbers of product development partnerships, are revolutionizing sleeping sickness diagnosis, prevention and treatment.
- Eighty-two per cent decrease in visceral leishmaniasis cases in India, Nepal and Bangladesh: Since 2008, cases of have decreased by 82 per cent due to improvements in vector control, mobilisation of village volunteers, collaboration with other NTD programs and drug donations from industry partners.
- Guinea worm disease nearing eradication: Cases of Guinea worm disease have reduced from an estimated 3.5 million in 1986 to 25 in 2016 in just three countries – Chad, Ethiopia and South Sudan.
Governments and other donors announced new commitments at the summit to expand the reach and impact of NTD programs around the world. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will give $335 million over the next four years to support a diverse group of NTD programs focused on drug development and delivery, disease surveillance and vector control.
“NTDs are some of the most painful, debilitating and stigmatising diseases that affect the world’s poorest communities. That’s why we helped launch the London Declaration, a historic milestone that led to significant progress in treating and reducing the spread of NTDs and demonstrated the impact that the public sector, the private sector, communities and NGOs can have by working together,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the foundation.
“Thanks to this partnership, these neglected diseases are now getting the attention they deserve so fewer people have to suffer from these treatable conditions. There have been many successes in the past five years, but the job is not done yet. We have set ambitious targets for 2020 that require the continued commitment of pharmaceutical companies, donor and recipient governments, and frontline health workers to ensure drugs are available and delivered to the hardest to reach people.”
The Belgian government pledged an additional $27 million, spread equally over the next nine years, toward the elimination of sleeping sickness in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The UK government’s pledged almost $450 million over five years to support NTD control and elimination efforts around the world.