February 4, 2009 / 12:58 PM / 11 years ago

More funds needed for lesser known tropical diseases

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Around $2.5 billion was spent globally in 2007 on research and developing drugs for tropical diseases endemic in developing countries, with HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria accounting for 80 percent of the amount, a report says.

An internally displaced Congolese child is treated for malaria at an International Medical Corps (IMC) clinic inside a displacement camp outside the eastern town of Goma, January 11, 2009, where IMC is providing medical services. REUTERS/Margaret Aguirre/International Medical Corps/Handout

In an article published in PLoS Medicine, researchers from The George Institute in Australia wrote that many other tropical illnesses that were killing millions of people in developing countries were significantly underfunded.

While diseases like malaria get more attention with more than 200 million cases a year — of which up to a million result in deaths — better treatments are urgently needed for other illnesses to improve overall health, they added.

Diarrhoeal illnesses killed 1.8 million people around the world in 2005, but collectively received only 4.5 percent of total global funding, the report said.

Malaria, in comparison, received 18.3 percent of global funding.

Diseases such as sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis and Chagas disease affect more than 13 million people around the world each year but collectively received only 4.9 percent of total funds.

“For many of these diseases, funding was not enough to create even one new product,” the researchers wrote.

Leishmaniasis is a skin disease caused by protozoan parasites and is transmitted by a species of sandfly. It manifests as huge sores on the skin and can damage the spleen and liver.

Chagas is another parasitic disease transmitted by a type of bug and can lead to chronic symptoms like heart disease later on.

Diseases like leprosy, rheumatic fever and typhoid each received less than $10 million or 0.4 percent of total global investment.

While the need for new vaccines and drugs to prevent and treat neglected tropical infections in developing countries is widely accepted, there is a lack of information for funders wishing to invest in this area, they added.

“Investment decisions are not only influenced by scientific or epidemiological considerations, but may also be influenced by factors such as the presence of advocacy and fundraising groups; by funder perceptions or preferences; or by the presence of policy frameworks and funding mechanisms that prioritize specific diseases,” they wrote.

The study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, found that public and philanthropic donors collectively invested $2.3 billion, or 90 percent, of total funding in 2007.

The researchers noted that some of the world’s wealthiest countries were “missing in action” from the top 10, top 20, or even top 50 funders.

“It is remarkable that investment by some private firms is now rivaling or exceeding spending by many public organizations, and indeed many G7 and OECD countries,” according to the report.

“While we commend these companies and philanthropists, their efforts are meant to support, not replace, those of wealthy governments around the world.”

The top public funders were the United States, European Commission, Britain, The Netherlands, Ireland, Brazil, Sweden, Canada, Australia, Russia, Belgium and France.

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