GHC Research Associate Katie Rosecrans outlines the new campaign to address NTDs, the first in a series on the topic
“Business is not as usual,” said Dr. Lorenzo Savioli, director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), regarding the new collaboration Uniting to Combat NTDs announced Jan. 30 in London. Thirteen pharmaceutical companies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, donor and recipient governments, the World Bank, and several NGOs have committed to work together to reach the targets outlined in the WHO’s new publication, Accelerating Work to Overcome the Global Impact of Neglected Tropical Diseases: A Roadmap for Implementation. The roadmap does not set new targets, but compiles existing resolutions and sets out common strategies for integrated NTD prevention and treatment programs.
The campaign surrounding Uniting to Combat NTDs highlights ten NTDs targeted for eradication, global elimination, or control by 2020:
- Guinea worm
- Blinding trachoma
- Human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness)
- Lymphatic filariasis
- Soil-transmitted helminthes (ascariasis, hookworm, and trichuriasis)
- Schistosomiasis (snail fever)
- Visceral leishmaniasis (kala-azar)
- Onchocerciasis (river blindness)
- Chagas disease
Though the WHO roadmap includes 17 NTDs, nine of 9 diseases above (the exception being Guinea worm) have been selected as priorities because they will benefit from increased drug donation by the pharmaceutical industry. In an unprecedented partnership brokered by Bill Gates, companies will maximize the impact of their donations by addressing the burden of NTDs together, instead of piecemeal by disease. Looking beyond their individual corporate social responsibility objectives, companies are combining efforts to achieve broader health goals set out by the WHO.
Pharmaceutical companies will not only provide more medication, they will also share intellectual property, both among industry partners and with the academic research community, and will pursue development of new technologies and improved formulations of existing medications to address NTDs. “I have never seen so many competitors working together,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan. Though this is certainly not the first public-private partnership in global health, the scale of cooperation, especially among private companies, is unprecedented. If the partners are able to achieve the WHO targets, this initiative could serve as a model-a new way to do business in global health.
The new donations mean that availability of the drugs themselves will no longer be the primary barrier to access, but there is still the hard work of delivery left to do. And drugs alone will not eliminate these diseases. Lack of clean water and sanitation, among other conditions of poverty, are what allow NTDs to continue to plague the most vulnerable. Uniting to Combat NTDs is just one piece of what is needed in an integrated development strategy to alleviate poverty, but it is an important and necessary piece.
This post is part of a blog series about neglected tropical diseases.
The Global Health Council endorses the London Declaration on NTDs.
Kathryn Rosecrans, MPH is a research associate at the Global Health Council.