Despite decade of innovation, much left to do on neglected tropical diseases
Despite decade of innovation, much left to do on neglected tropical diseases IRIN
IRIN on Friday, June 7, 2013
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Ten years ago, the main treatment for kala azar - a disease that kills up to 40,000 people every year - was a 30-day course of injections, a difficult undertaking both for patients and for the poorly equipped health centres in the remote areas where many cases of the disease occur. Today, combination therapy has cut the treatment period to 17 days in some affected areas, but scientists and health officials continue to work towards developing a simple pill that would replace painful injections and further ease treatment.

The sand fly-transmitted disease, also known as visceral leishmaniasis, causes painful lesions and is fatal without treatment. It is found in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda, as well as parts of Asia, eastern Europe and the Middle East. It is just one of 17 illnesses on the UN World Health Organization's list of neglected tropical diseases, which cause an estimated half a million deaths annually.

For the past 10 years, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) has been involved in research and development (R&D) for neglected diseases around the world, developing six new treatments for malaria, sleeping sickness, kala azar and chagas.

A two-day event was recently held in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to take stock of the last decade of health innovations for neglected diseases in Africa. There, more than 400 scientists, government health officials and members of the organizations that make up DNDi agreed that while significant progress has been made in the fight against several neglected diseases, better leadership, coordination and funding will be necessary to eliminate them from the continent.

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