Geneva - The humanitarian medical aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) welcomes this week's news from the World Health organization that miltefosine, a new drug to treat visceral leishmaniasis
Visceral leishmaniasis affects around half a million people world-wide, almost all the poor in remote areas in the less-developed world.
Without treatment, it is almost always lethal. "This is excellent news for leishmaniasis patients," said Dr Bernard Pécoul, Director of MSF's Access to Essential Medicines Campaign. "New, effective treatments are desperately needed.
Although miltefosine has its limitations, it is the first oral drug to treat the disease, making it a much more practical drug compared to the current injectable treatments. "Miltefosine must now be made available in other countries afflicted by this killer disease.
The drug also needs to be affordable to patients who need it. We hope the price can come down to around US$10 per treatment." This is roughly equivalent of the price of the generic version of SSG, the most commonly used drug today." Virtually no new treatments have become available for tropical diseases treatment in recent decades, even though these diseases kill millions of people each year in developing countries.
An article published in the Lancet tomorrow
The authors of the Lancet article conclude that the crisis of the most neglected diseases requires a combination of new strategies.
An international pharmaceutical policy for all neglected diseases is required. More emphasis and investigation needs to go to mechanisms to oblige the private sector to invest in diseases of the poor; and not-for-profit drug development initiatives need to be explored. Drug development cannot be left to the private industry alone. Without a shift to needs-driven R&D, the needs of millions in the developing world will continue to be largely ignored.
Quick leishmaniasis definition
The leishmania parasite causes a number of different diseases, varying from lethal visceral disease to mild, self-healing skin lesions. Although leishmaniasis occurs in 82 countries around the world, the majority of cases are limited to a few countries.