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Tackling Neglected Tropical Diseases

January 28, 2012

In my many years working in global health, I’ve seen the devastating impact of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), horrible diseases that most people have never even heard of, let alone can pronounce.  Diseases like schistosomiasis, onchocerciasis, and visceral leishmaniasis.   

I’ve treated and worked with these diseases for over 18 years, and it’s not often I’ve been fortunate enough to witness game-changing events that turn lives around; from the countless children I’ve  treated for intestinal worms to the mother of seven in Ethiopia who suffers from blinding trachoma, and who has passed the debilitating and costly disease on to her children one by one.  

Today, in London, the Gates Foundation and more than a dozen global pharmaceutical companies, donor countries, non-governmental organizations and others announced an innovative partnership to help people worldwide who suffer from NTDs.  This partnership committed to work together to control or eliminate 10 NTDs by 2020. 

For as long as I’ve been in this field, many companies and organizations have been working to defeat NTDs.  They’ve made tremendous progress and I’ve personally seen the many success stories that have resulted from their work. 

One success is Guinea worm, a horrible disease where a three-foot worm emerges through a painful ulcer in the skin, and prevents adults from working and kids from going to school, playing and leading regular lives.  Now, thanks to new resources provided by this partnership that builds on a history of dedicated effort led by The Carter Center, we’re down to barely a thousand cases annually.   This is an incredible feat that will make a real difference for millions of families living in the developing world.

Yet despite decades of progress, these diseases still affect more than one billion people and lead to US$10 billion each year in lost productivity and treatment costs.

The commitments announced today, and which are outlined in a London Declaration on NTDs,  are in line with the newly released World Health Organization’s NTD roadmap (PDF).  They will start to lead us down a path together against these diseases. 

Through this innovative partnership, we will increase the impact of the more than 20 individual organization’s investments that have been fighting these diseases for many years (see the infographic below).  By working together toward the common 2020 goals, we will comprehensively address these diseases by: extending and increasing NTD drug donations to meet demand; advancing R&D to find next generation treatments and interventions; and, increasing resources in NTD-endemic countries to improve implementation of drug programs on-the-ground.

The partnership effort launched today is a wonderful model for tackling other global health efforts. The simple fact is, working together, we can achieve far more than any one of us could on our own.

And now more than ever, we have the opportunity to help hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people live healthier, and build self-sufficiency.  This means the mother of seven with blinding trachoma will be able to make a living wage and care for her children, and millions of children who otherwise would be debilitated by these diseases will be able to go to school without intestinal worms stealing the food from their bellies.

For a visual look at the impact of neglected tropical diseases and what this partnership will do, check out the infographic below.

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