Gates Foundation to fund treatment of neglected tropical diseases

Zimbabwe and other poorly-resourced countries are set to benefit from renewed partnership commitments made at an ongoing Geneva summit focusing on the debilitating and painful neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

By Phyllis Mbanje

NTDs are some of the oldest and most painful diseases afflicting the world’s poorest communities. One in six people suffer from NTDs worldwide, including more than half a billion children.

Zimbabwe is one of the countries battling NTDs and last year it was reported that the country could save $143 million if efforts are scaled to eliminate five of the NTDs, which include bilharzia and intestinal worms.

As of 2010, Zimbabwe was affected by four of the five most common NTDs — lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), schistosomiasis (bilharzia), soil-transmitted helminths (intestinal worms) and trachoma.

Of the country’s 63 districts, 57 are prone to bilharzia, which, if untreated, can cause infertility and other health complications.

Speaking at a five-day summit yesterday, where partners have pledged new commitments to the collective efforts to control and eliminate NTDs, the world’s richest person, Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said partnerships were critical in keeping the diseases at bay.

“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,” Gates said.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation committed $335 million in grants over the next four years.

Attended by leaders from governments, pharmaceutical companies and charitable organisations, the summit coincided with the launch of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Fourth Report on NTDs, showing transformational progress against these diseases.

The WHO report revealed that more people are being reached with needed NTD interventions than ever before. In 2015, nearly a billion people received treatments donated by pharmaceutical companies for at least one NTD, representing a 36% 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 treatment has decreased from two billion in 2010 to 1,6 billion in 2015.

“WHO has observed record-breaking progress towards bringing ancient scourges like sleeping sickness and elephantiasis to their knees,” WHO director-general, Margaret Chan said.