Now is not the time to retreat from the fight against NTDs

Bernard Pécoul Bernard Pécoul, Executive Director, DNDi
[March 2013]

Last year saw an important cornerstone laid in the fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), and one that highlighted the need to keep NTD research and development (R&D) on the global public health agenda. In January 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched its NTD strategy, ‘Accelerating Work to Overcome the Global Impact of Neglected Tropical Diseases: A Roadmap for Implementation’, which set forth specific, time-bound targets for the prevention, control, elimination, or eradication of the 17 WHO-defined NTDs by 2020. The goals were set high, and key actors came together to commit to these goals at the ‘Uniting to Combat NTDs’ meeting in London in January 2012. At this meeting, major private, public, international, and non-governmental partners, including DNDi, aligned their efforts to support the WHO roadmap and accelerate progress toward eliminating or controlling 10 of the 17 NTDs by 2020 as put forth in the resulting ‘London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases’.

The same year, discussions and debates on strengthening financing and coordination of R&D for the health needs of developing countries, including for NTDs, took place, following up on the report of the WHO-convened Consultative Expert Working Group on Research and Development: Financing and Coordination (CEWG). Today, WHO Member States have agreed on a draft resolution including ‘a strategic work plan to improve monitoring and coordination, and to ensure sustainable funding for health R&D, in line with the global strategy and plan of action on public health, innovation and intellectual property, as a step towards achieving the goal of development and delivery of affordable, effective, safe and quality health products, in which existing market mechanisms fail to provide incentives for health R&D.’

We hope that this work plan, in particular the establishment of a global health R&D observatory, and the implementation of a few health R&D ‘demonstration projects’, will help spur innovative and sustainable mechanisms to fill urgent essential-health research gaps, and secure patient access to new health tools in developing countries.

In addition, the WHO Executive Board recommended the adoption by the World Health Assembly of a draft resolution on NTDs, encouraging governments to prioritize NTD control. The resolution reiterates the need for integrated approaches to addressing the health needs of neglected populations. In addition to this resolution, the January 2013 second WHO report on NTDs, ‘Sustaining the Drive to Overcome the Global Impact of Neglected Tropical Diseases’, shows that some progress has been made, notably since 2010.

With all of these encouraging signs, we risk ‘laying down our arms’ and prematurely celebrating victory over NTDs when in fact the fight is far from over. While there is clear momentum and engagement by new actors, the efforts and resources of these actors must be used wisely and in a defragmented fashion, especially in the context of financial and funding crises the world over. The promising and encouraging NTD R&D landscape today is a major improvement over the paucity of actors 10 years ago, but we still have yet to see new breakthroughs in hand that will truly change the course of some neglected diseases and save the lives of neglected patients. As these long-ignored patients continue to wait, we must not retreat in our efforts.

Dr Bernard Pécoul
Executive Director, DNDi