AIDS claims around three million lives every year; tuberculosis some 1.7 million lives; malaria, over one million. The international community is right to focus on preventing and tackling these three big killer diseases. However, in doing so, it should not forget that at least one billion people one-sixth of the worlds population suffer from one or more neglected tropical diseases. The burden of these diseases, some of which reinforce AIDS and TB, is incalculable.
Diseases such as Buruli Ulcer, Dengue, Leishmaniasis, Onchocercosis, Schistosomiasis, Sleeping Sickness and Chagas Disease affect the poorest and most vulnerable in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. They are neglected especially in terms of research and development of new diagnostics, treatments and vaccines. Patients suffering from these illnesses are still too often given archaic drugs, some of which are highly toxic, ineffective or difficult to administer.
Nor should we should not forget the millions of people throughout the world who suffer from mental and neurological disease, neglected in most of the middle-and- low-income countries which devote less than one percent of their health expenditure to mental and neurological health.
Urgent action is needed to develop new drugs, tests and vaccines that are adapted to developing countries needs, and to make them available at affordable prices. That is why the European Parliament has repeatedly called for neglected diseases to receive more attention and investment.
Last year, my Report on Major and Neglected Diseases called on the European Commission to broaden its approach on HIV/AIDS, Malaria and TB to other neglected diseases. Earlier this year, the Parliament voted to put neglected diseases firmly into the 7th Research Framework Programme, though unfortunately this has so far been ignored by the Council.
We need to think about the mechanisms for delivering more Research and Development. Less than one percent of the 1,393 new drugs placed on the market between 1975 and 1999 were developed for infectious, tropical diseases.
We need to stress the D in R&D. We know there already exists much scientific knowledge that could contribute to the development of new treatments and therapies. In fact, policies have tended to focus on how to get the Research off the ground but have largely failed to support the Development: neglected disease initiatives that are already working on new drugs.
Some of the solutions are to be found through Public-Private Partnerships.? Numerous drug research projects are now underway, most of which are Public-Private Partnerships.
These PPP-driven projects should result in eight or nine new drugs in the next four years, though mainly for Malaria and TB. We must harness the best of the public sector (in the R) with the best of the private sector (in the D) and apply successful models to the most neglected diseases.
I congratulate the charities, philanthropic organisations, public institutes and private companies involved. I salute that the agreement was reached at the World Health Assembly in May to negotiate an action plan on essential research needs.? I applaud the commitment of the Commissions Research Directorate General to develop funding strategies and projects for neglected diseases research in the context of the 7th Research Programme.
We need vigilance, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care; we must never cherry-pick in our battle against disease. We must continue to tackle the Big Three of AIDS, TB and Malaria – which are still not under control and are still spreading to new regions – but as many or more people die, become chronically ill or live with disabilities caused by diseases the world neglects.
It is time to end that poverty of fatalism; it is time to bring neglected diseases in from the cold and to bring real hope to those who live with and too often die from them.
Neglected Infectious Diseases will be the subject of an international conference organised by the European Commission on 8th and 9th November in
John Bowis is the