Sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis, and elephantiasis are some of the diseases that will be addressed by a new US$20 million African initiative. The Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative would conduct research into the diseases, which also include hydatid, kala azar, schistosomiasis, and Buruli ulcer.
They are diseases that mainly attack the poor people in Africa and are considered neglected since treatment options are inadequate or simply do not exist.
Behind the initiative are the WHO, France's Medicins Sans FrontiÃ?¨res (MSF) and Institut Pasteur, Brazil's Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, India's Council of Medical Research, and Malaysia's Ministry of Health. The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) is the lead research and joint centre in Africa. According to MSF's director of campaign for access to essential medicines, Bernard Pecoul, the initiative plans to raise US$250 million from governments, private foundations, individuals, and founding partners in the next 10 years.
The initiative comes amid accusations that the west has ignored the plight of poor patients by either minimising funding or failing to do research on new drugs for diseases that affect them.
KEMRI director Davy Koech says most Kenyans are at risk of contracting the neglected diseases. "It is unfortunate that no new drugs for treating sleeping sickness have been developed in the last 50 years, whereas the number of people suffering from the disease continues to rise", he says.
Until recently, sleeping sickness patients had to undergo painful treatment with arsenic-based medicine because of unavailability of more effective treatment. In Africa alone, the disease affects up to 500 000 people and threatens another 60 million.
Neglected diseases often affect the poor in developing countries. As a result, pharmaceutical companies have little interest in these diseases. The new project thus advocates increased public responsibility and involvement in neglected diseases. Infectious diseases could be reduced if more funds were put into health research and drugs manufacture, according to experts.
Neglected diseases often affect the poor in developing countries. As a result, pharmaceutical companies have little interest in these diseases. The new project thus advocates increased public responsibility and involvement in neglected diseases.