Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) rob people of their health, livelihoods, and sense of dignity. Over 1 billion people are at risk for these diseases around the world. They are all preventable or treatable.
Today marks the first-ever World NTD Day, an important milestone that will amplify voices and shine a light on these overlooked diseases. Today also sees the launch of the 2019 G-FINDER report, an annual tracker of investment into neglected diseases, and while 2019 saw the highest-ever level of global funding for all neglected disease R&D, funding for NTDs has stagnated and investment stands at only 23 cents per infected person. This is just not enough to fill the critical gaps in diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines.
At FIND, we are focusing on NTDs with the greatest diagnostic gaps – often where a rapid diagnostic test that can be used at the point of care would have a big effect. Buruli ulcer, for example, impacts tens of thousands of people, most of whom are children. Without diagnosis and treatment, it can lead to skin, tissue or bone damage, with surgery or amputation sometimes required. While treatment is straightforward and effective if the infection is spotted early, current diagnostics are costly and complex. With support from funders including Anesvad and Medicor Foundation, we have developed a prototype rapid diagnostic test, which should be ready for field evaluation in the coming months.
Similarly, as part of a FIND-led consortium with WHO, Mologic and Leiden University Medical Centre, we are developing rapid diagnostic tests for schistosomiasis that can support national control and elimination programmes in countries where the disease is regularly found. Schistosomiasis affects over 200 million people, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, and without treatment leads to progressive organ damage, chronic ill-health and ultimately death. This work is supported by funders including the Merck Global Health Institute.
When the right diagnostics are available where they are needed, the results can be game-changing. Thanks to great efforts from the community, elimination of some NTDs is already within reach. Many of you will be familiar with our long-running work in sleeping sickness (human African trypanosomiasis) – which has included the development of new tests and rollout of screening programmes, to increase the chances of early diagnosis, facilitating treatment and stopping transmission. In 1995, 300,000 new cases were occurring annually in Africa. Today, several countries including Uganda and Ivory Coast are close to getting their HAT elimination status validated.
In 2020, no one, anywhere, should have to be blinded, disabled, disfigured or killed by diseases that we know how to beat.
FIND’s NTD portfolio is underpinned by funding from the Swiss government (SDC and the Canton of Geneva), KFW and UK aid from the British people, among others.