WHO says more funding, innovation needed to combat tropical diseases

Posted: January 18, 2013

Tropical diseases, once neglected, are getting more attention from governments and pharmaceutical companies but more funding and innovation are needed, the World Health Organization said in a report released Wednesday.

Diseases rarely seen in the United States, such as lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), onchocerciasis (river blindness), schistosomiasis (a parasite), and soil-transmitted helminthiasis (intestinal worms) can ruin lives or even cause death in poorer and undeveloped parts of the world.

"The challenge now is to strengthen capacity of national disease programs in endemic countries and streamline supply chains to get the drugs to the people who need them when they need them," Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, said in statement.

Chan was also party to a one-year anniversary assessment by the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases, which convened 13 drugmakers, recipient nations, donor countries, and nongovernmental groups to coordinate action. U.S. taxpayers and the Gates Foundation were among the U.S.-based donors putting money toward research.

For example, the University of Pennsylvania got about $3.6 million from the U.S. National Institutes of Health to study six diseases rarely seen in Philadelphia.

GlaxoSmithKline's chief executive officer, Andrew Witty, whose company is based in London and has several Philadelphia-area facilities, chaired the London group.

The reported noted that member companies donated 1.1 billion treatments in the last year.

Allan Pamba, who helps guide engagement and access initiatives for Glaxo in developing countries, said by phone from South Africa that text messages reminding new mothers to get infants vaccinated was a new-era approach to old problems.

"These medicines are sometimes called market failures because they don't affect enough people in the West to be profitable," Pamba said. "But sometimes we simply haven't innovated sufficiently to find an approach that works with these medicines."


Contact David Sell at 215-854-4506, dsell@phillynews.com, or @phillypharma on Twitter. Read his blog at www.philly.com/phillypharma.

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