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Gates Foundation, Drug Companies Push To Eliminate 10 Tropical Diseases

Gates Foundation Tropical Disease

By LINDA A. JOHNSON   01/30/12 01:29 PM ET  AP

-- Thirteen major pharmaceutical companies, government groups and health charities will work together in a push to eliminate or control by 2020 10 tropical diseases that affect more than a billion people in poor countries.

The partners, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, call it the largest coordinated effort ever to combat neglected tropical diseases. The government groups and charities alone are committing just over $785 million in new funding.

The drugmakers are donating billions of doses of their medicines over the rest of the decade, but did not attribute a value to them. The companies also will work together to speed up development of new treatments, and the partners will work on improving drug delivery and treatment programs, including prevention and education.

The diseases include leprosy, sleeping sickness and river blindness.

The project, announced Monday at the Royal College of Physicians in London, aims to meet the goals of the World Health Organization's roadmap for controlling the diseases by 2020.

"These ancient diseases are now being brought to their knees with stunning speed," said Dr. Margaret Chan, the organization's director-general.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the project's biggest donor, with a five-year, $363 million donation to support research and operations. The U.K. Department for International Development is committing about $305 million, and the U.S. Agency for International Development is providing $89 million. That's on top of USAID's $212 million investment since 2006. Other governments or charities are giving smaller amounts.

"Today, we have joined together to increase the impact of our investments and build on the tremendous progress made to date," Bill Gates said in a statement, adding that improving people's health would help them become self-sufficient.

The drugmakers donating medicines, research work, access to patented drug compounds and other assistance are Abbott Laboratories, AstraZeneca PLC, Bayer AG, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Eisai Inc., Gilead Sciences Inc., GlaxoSmithKline PLC, Johnson & Johnson, Merck KgaA, Merck & Co., Novartis AG, Pfizer Inc. and Sanofi SA.

According to the Gates foundation, more than a billion people – more than half of them children – are affected by neglected tropical diseases, which either kill or cause malnutrition, serious disability, disfigurement and even social discrimination.

The diseases are common in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia and contribute to poverty. They are caused by worms and microscopic parasites or infections, generally acquired from insect bites, contaminated drinking water or contact with infected people.

Existing, affordable treatments and preventive steps have already reduced the prevalence of some tropical diseases, such as leprosy, Guinea worm disease and river blindness.

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Filed by Amanda L. Chan  |