Infectious and parasitic diseases in poor countries cause incalculable suffering, killing more than 12 million people a year. MSF volunteers and doctors working in more than 400 projects in over 80 countries witness this first hand. Most of these diseases are preventable or treatable.
However, appropriate medicines are increasingly unavailable due to increasing drug resistance, discontinued production or the high cost of drugs, and, not least, the lack of ongoing research and development for new or innovative treatments for neglected diseases.
Neglected diseases are seriously disabling or life-threatening diseases for which treatment options are inadequate or do not exist, and for which drug-market potential is insufficient to readily attract a private sector response. They fall into two categories: those such as malaria and tuberculosis (TB), for which some pharmaceutical market exists in wealthy countries, attracting some private R&D efforts; and those such as African sleeping sickness, kala-azar, Chagas disease, and lymphatic filariasis, for which the market has completely failed.
The vast majority of people dying of neglected diseases live in poor countries, and the African continent is home to most. Malaria, for example, kills more than one million people every year, 75% which are African children. Infectious diseases also keep poor people - and their countries - poor. By some estimates, malaria has cut sub-Saharan Africa's economic strength in half.
The recent announcement that researchers have cracked the genetic code of the malaria parasite should give hope to those at risk. Indeed, new medicines are badly needed, as the current treatments are less and less effective as resistance to old drugs develops. Unfortunately, it is an open question as to whether this knowledge will be translated into rapid development of new drugs to treat malaria. Why? The answer is simple: because the people most affected by malaria will not be able to afford to pay for new medicines.
The same is true for sufferers of tuberculosis, a disease that researchers also know a great deal about but for which few new treatments have been developed in over 30 years. The situation is even worse for other neglected diseases such as African sleeping sickness and kala-azar.
The vast majority of people dying of neglected diseases live in poor countries, and the African continent is home to most. Effectively, the health needs of a large part of the world's population are ignored.