flatworm-transmitted infection called schistosomiasis that can damage
vital organs like the liver. “In many countries, especially Egypt, huge
numbers are co-infected with hepatitis C and schistosomiasis, and this
combination dramatically accelerates liver damage,” says Dr. Ward.
For many NTDs, the diagnostic and prognostic tests are poor. “With
parasitic diseases, you are often still positive for the disease even after
treatment,” explains Dr. Ward. “We can treat Chagas, or leishmania or
sleeping sickness, but we have no idea if we’ve cured them.” So his group
is looking for tests that will definitively indicate whether patients have
been cured, have relapsed or been re-infected, and whether the disease is
progressing. Such tests could spare patients unnecessary toxic therapies.
Ultimately, researchers in the industrialized world hope to transfer
the development and delivery of essential medicines to the countries
affected. But for now, the burden still lies with us. “We have to do the job
since most of the endemic countries can’t afford to,” says Dr. Papadopou-
lou of Laval. “It has to be done in developed countries that have the money,
personnel and infrastructure, then slowly transferred to the developing
nations so they can take over.”
And, despite increased global awareness and support, things are pro-
ceeding too slowly for those on the research barricades. “There’s a lot of
attention and a lot of buzzwords surrounding global diseases now, but
they are still neglected in that the number of dollars going into research
as a function of the number of people affected is far too small,” says Dr. Wasan.
Dr. Ward, meanwhile, remains frustrated that such a large share of
the money is allocated to malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis – the Big
Three. “Hundreds of millions go into these diseases when a small propor-
tion of that could solve some of the next 12,” he laments. “Without for a
moment minimizing the magnitude of the threat posed by HIV,” he says,
“the Canadian HIV vaccine initiative has grabbed millions of dollars with
little to no chance of making a substantive contribution to the development
of a vaccine.”
Why? “Probably because it is far sexier for a government minister to
stand up and say, ‘We’re going after an HIV vaccine’ than to say, ‘We’re
saving lives through the prevention of intestinal parasites.’”
1999/ Doctors Without Borders sets up a fund
to fight NTDs with the proceeds of its Nobel
2000/ The WHO launches a global program
to eliminate lymphatic filariasis; Bill and
Melinda Gates create their foundation.
2004/ Third global meeting of the Partners for
2005/ First International Conference on the
Control of Neglected Zoonotic Diseases is
held; WHO Department of Control of Neglected
Tropical Diseases is established.
2006/ Collaboration begins between
WHO and the Foundation for Innovative New
Diagnostics to develop and evaluate new
diagnostic tests for human African sleeping
2007/ Global partners’ meeting on neglected
tropical diseases is held at WHO headquarters.
2008/ The U.S. launches the Neglected
Tropical Disease Initiative.
2010/ Several large pharmaceutical companies
announce commitments to donate drugs or
support WHO programs to eradicate NTDs
ranging from Buruli ulcer and Chagas disease
to leprosy and leishmaniasis.