Major campaign sets goal to check tropical diseases

A global initiative to control or eradicate 10 neglected tropical diseases within the decade was officially launched this week in London. Experts say the initiative is the largest coordinated effort ever undertaken to combat diseases, including sleeping sickness and guinea worm, that affect more than a billion people around the world.

In an unprecedented show of unity, leaders of government, public and private health groups and major drug companies have pledged to work closely to combat neglected tropical diseases. These debilitating infections affect 1.4 billion people in the world’s poorest countries. The so-called London Declaration calls for the eradication and elimination of 10 of these tropical illnesses by the year 2020.

The World Health Organization says neglected tropical diseases cost billions of dollars in lost productivity. But the maladies have been largely overlooked by medical researchers because they affect relatively small and mostly poor populations.

Dr. Margaret Chan, World Health director general, called the initiative a roadmap for an ambitious but achievable journey.

“Just think of the prospect of freeing millions of people — most of them are children and women — so that they could have a healthy and productive life. On that we need your support. Come with us. This is going to be a long journey but we have a very good first step,” said Dr. Chan.

With funds from various partners totaling $785 million, the project aims to eliminate many ancient scourges, such as leprosy, sleeping sickness, lymphatic filariasis, blinding trachoma, and guinea worm.

Microsoft chairman and philanthropist Bill Gates pledged $363 million through his namesake foundation. He called the London Declaration a milestone event.

“We have very ambitious goals that we have set. For example, for guinea worm we have got that 2015 eradication so we have a nice little competition going on between polio and guinea worm to see which would get to be the second disease eradicated and which will get to be the third disease eradicated, and the sooner the better for both of those,” said Gates.

To speed the search for new drugs to fight the diseases, 13 drug companies have for the first time agreed to share their libraries of experimental compounds. And they also have agreed to donate and deliver billions of doses of drugs every year to aid the poorest of the poor, in the most remote corners of the world.

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