(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Paltry funding for tackling deadly diseases

The 'Aedes aegypti' mosquito which is the carrier of dengue fever
WHO

Diseases that kill millions of people annually in the developing world are overlooked as donors and pharmaceutical companies spend most of their money on creating products to treat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, according to a study by George Institute for International Health.



Funding for what the Australia-based research organisation calls “neglected diseases”- including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria - went up in 2007 to US$2.5 billion, but survey leader Mary Moran said there was also bad news. “Some of the biggest or cruellest killers like pneumonia and Buruli ulcer have few advocates, no global fund and get less than five percent of funding.”



Pneumonia, which kills more under-five children every year than AIDS, malaria and measles combined, according to World Health Organization (WHO), received one percent of 2007 public and private research and development monies.



Meanwhile, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has received $12.4 billion since 2001, according to its website.



AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria received 80 percent of research and development funds in 2007, according to the funding survey.



No Global Fund



For years, international health advocates have tried to draw more attention to tropical diseases other than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria that strike people in some of the most remote, laboratory-deficient places in the world. Health workers group these often overlooked ailments as “neglected diseases”.



Buruli ulcer, yaws and leishmaniases, among other diseases, afflict more than one billion people, according to WHO. Spread through worm-infested contaminated water and insects, these diseases can lead to blindness, disfiguration and death.



WHO launched a plan in 2008 to fight oft-forgotten diseases with more research, training, surveillance and “ensuring free and timely access to high-quality medicines,” according to an internal document calling these diseases the “ancient companion of poverty.”



But George Institute is asking, does that medicine even exist? According to its report, research and development funding on any one neglected disease - including respiratory, worm and diarrhoeal illnesses - is insufficient “to create even one new product.”



Funding



No vaccine exists for strains of streptococcus pneumoniae common in the developing world, which is a bacterium that causes pneumonia and meningitis, according to the funding survey.



Lower respiratory infections led to almost four million deaths in 2004, with another two million caused by diarrhoeal diseases like cholera and shigella, according to WHO.



These diseases attracted less than six percent of global research and development monies for neglected diseases in 2007, or $145 million, according to Georgia Institute.



Amadou Makhtar Gueye, director of paediatric services for Thiès regional hospital 70km east of Senegal’s capital Dakar, told IRIN that malaria, diarrhoeal illnesses and respiratory infections were the most common ailments his young patients face. “Patients in the city can make it in to see me. But villagers who wait to come in do not always survive.”



The George Institute funding survey showed more than $80 million going to dengue fever research, of which 40 percent came from private companies and the US Department of Defense. Authors wrote that one possible reason dengue is better funded than other low-priority diseases is United States’ interest in protecting its military working in dengue-endemic areas.



The US government and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave 60 percent of neglected disease research and development funding in 2007. Gates Foundation funded the five-year funding survey, which covered 134 public and private donors; 30 diseases; and more than 100 research areas including vaccines, drugs, vector-control products and clinical trials.



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