White House Called on to Expand Global Health Initiative

Funding Needed to Combat Most Deadly Neglected Diseases

New York, February 24, 2010 – The Obama administration’s Global Health Initiative (GHI) does not go far enough in combating the most lethal neglected tropical diseases, which affect an estimated one billion people, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) said today. MSF and DNDi call on the US government to expand the GHI to encompass treatment programs for all neglected tropical diseases, while supporting a research and development pipeline that will produce more effective, safer, and accessible medicines to patients as quickly as possible.

In its current formulation, the GHI proposes significant funding increases for treating only five of 14 so-called neglected tropical diseases identified by the World Health Organization. Safe, effective, and readily available treatments already exist for the five diseases, and they will receive additional funding from the GHI. The group of 14 is composed of parasitic, bacterial, and viral infections affecting more than a billion people in the developing world.

“The Global Health Initiative’s focus on neglected tropical diseases is an unprecedented step toward addressing diseases that affect more than a billion of the poorest, most marginalized people in the world,” said Sophie Delaunay, Executive Director of MSF-USA. “Unfortunately, unless changes are made to the proposed policy, the exclusion of the deadliest neglected tropical diseases will mean, once again, a lost opportunity to save lives.”

In particular, the diseases left out of the GHI are some of the deadliest and most forgotten, including visceral leishmaniasis, sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, and Buruli ulcer. With the exception of Buruli ulcer, these diseases are always or often fatal if left untreated. Even with sub-optimal medicines, diagnostics and limited treatment options available, MSF has been able to care for tens of thousands of patients suffering from these four devastating diseases in countries such as India, Sudan and Bolivia. For decades, and in some of the most impoverished places in the world, MSF has proven that lifesaving treatment is possible.

Moreover, new diagnostics, drugs and vaccines are urgently needed in order to support long-term efforts to control these diseases and eventually eliminate of all neglected tropical diseases. US-funded science and health programs have proven their capacity for developing new tools through clinical research and field introduction as they already do for malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS.

Research innovations to combat these diseases are possible. Just last year, a new, improved treatment for sleeping sickness known as NECT (Nifurtimox-Eflornithine Combination Therapy), was developed. NECT is safer, more effective, and easier to administer.

“Existing treatments do have the ability to save lives today and should be made more readily available, alongside efforts to research and develop much improved diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines to control and eventually eliminate neglected tropical diseases.” said Dr. Bernard Pécoul, Executive Director of DNDi. “With an expanded focus on all neglected tropical diseases and the inclusion of patient focused needs-based research and development of new tools, the Global Health Initiative has the potential to achieve significant impact in the next five years.” 

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international independent medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural and man-made disasters, and exclusion from health care in more than 60 countries and was awarded the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize. MSF has for many years provided diagnosis and treatment for individuals afflicted with neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in a wide range of contexts. MSF has primarily focused on the four diseases recognized as the most neglected – visceral leishmaniasis (VL, or kala azar), human African trypanosomiasis (HAT, or sleeping sickness), Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis), and Buruli ulcer. Three of these NTDs, VL, HAT, and Chagas disease, are often fatal if left untreated and have the highest rates of death of all of the NTDs.

The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) is a not-for-profit product development partnership working to research and develop new and improved treatments for neglected disease, in particular human African trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, and malaria. With the objective to address unmet patient needs for these diseases, DNDi was established in 2003 by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation from Brazil, the Indian Council for Medical Research, the Kenya Medical Research Institute, the Ministry of Health of Malaysia, the Pasteur Institute, and Médecins sans Frontières (MSF).  WHO/TDR acts as a permanent observer. Working in partnership with industry and academia, DNDi has the largest ever R&D portfolio for kinetoplastid diseases. Since 2007, DNDi has delivered three products, two fixed-dose anti-malarials “ASAQ” and “ASMQ”, and a combination treatment for the advanced stage of sleeping sickness “NECT” (nifurtimox-eflornithine combination therapy).