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Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases receives $34 million from Gates Foundation

Dramatic improvements in health care and living conditions have led Latin America and the Caribbean to swift epidemiological changes and a predominance of non-communicable diseases such as cancer and heart problems. But paradoxically, preventable infectious diseases continue to afflict the poorest and most vulnerable populations.

Although cost-effective technologies exist to control and eliminate some of the most devastating neglected diseases, more than 200 million poor people suffer from a group of 13 parasitic and bacterial infections that could ultimately impair physical and intellectual development, limit productivity and affect communities and growth.

The economic impact of many infectious diseases endemic in areas of Latin America, such as intestinal parasitosis, river blindness, leprosy or Chagas, is as high as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Due to these stigmatizing chronic conditions, almost five million life years are lost annually in the region. Some diseases are widespread and others concentrated geographically, but many of the infected lack access to medical care, safe water and sanitation. The best approach is an integrated initiative that combines preventive and curative treatment, and investments in both health care and safe water.

As part of an international campaign with seed money provided by a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant to the Sabin Vaccine Institute for its major initiative the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, the Inter-American Development Bank is leading the way in Latin America and the Caribbean to scale up prevention and treatment efforts to eliminate most neglected diseases by 2020.

Building on this new grant announced today in Davos, Switzerland, the IDB –in close collaboration with the Global Network and the Pan American Health Organization—will launch a trust fund to challenge local governments to control and eliminate neglected diseases. Grants will be made to local governments and NGOs conditional on meeting disease control and elimination goals, and on making complementary investments in water, sanitation, drainage, solid waste and housing improvements.

The cost of controlling five priority neglected diseases via medical interventions will amount to $137 million, which would allow the trust fund to deliver 200 million treatments and save more than 1 million life years that would otherwise be lost to these preventable causes. Extremely low-cost action for as little as 50 cents per person per year, would allow treatment of the most common diseases --a high return on investment.

"Neglected tropical diseases affect approximately 200 million of the poorest people in the Americas. Eliminating some of these diseases, while ambitious, is possible through collaborative efforts,” said IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno. “We are honored and committed to working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, the Pan American Health Organization, and other potential partners on these efforts. It is an opportunity to control a number of infectious diseases by 2020 while contributing to the reduction of poverty and the bridging of inequality." 

The IDB will also contribute with investments in water, sanitation, drainage, solid waste and neighborhood upgrading in epidemiological hot spots that will complement the cost-effective medical care to be financed by the trust fund. The IDB expects to invest $1 billion in loans and grants each year in water and sanitation from 2009 and to seek synergies with health measures.

The IDB will also leverage its $6 billion portfolio of support to conditional cash transfer programs, which provide payments to poor women in exchange for their children’s use of preventive health services and school attendance, to ensure that mass drug administration reaches the poorest in rural as well as urban areas.

The Global Network’s “End the Neglect 2020” campaign will raise public awareness and support from corporations, foundations and individuals to eliminate some of the most devastating and deadly neglected tropical diseases.