UN meeting aims to spotlight forgotten tropical diseases mobilize action

Political leaders and scientists as well as representatives of banks, foundations and a number of leading pharmaceutical companies are gathered in Geneva today for a meeting organized by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) in a bid to galvanize action to combat ‘forgotten’ tropical diseases, which afflict some 1 billion people annually.“This event marks a turning point in the long and notorious history of some of humanity’s oldest diseases,” WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan told participants. “The burden imposed by these diseases, measured in terms of human misery alone, is unacceptable. We are committed to take action.”Most of the neglected diseases are caused by parasites that thrive in impoverished settings, where water supply, sanitation and housing are poor, according to WHO, and they permanently deform and disable large numbers of poor people, trapping them in poverty.Worldwide, an estimated 1 billion people – one sixth of the world’s population – are affected by one or more of these diseases. But the agency voiced hope that immediate action can now be taken, for the first time in history, thanks to the availability of safe and effective drugs in large quantities.A “decisive” factor in turning the tide has been the decision by industry to supply drugs for prevention or treatment at low or no cost, WHO said.At today’s meeting, for example, Dr. Chan and Merck KGaA’s Executive Board Member Elmar Schnee signed an agreement aimed at fighting schistosomiasis. Under the initiative, a donation of 200 million tablets of the drug praziquantel – worth $80 million – will be given to WHO, potentially protecting millions of children from the parasitic worm disease.Substantial progress has already been made in the fight to control and eliminate many neglected tropical diseases. The number of leprosy cases has decreased from 5.2 million in 1985 to less than 220,000 today, and 14.5 million people have been cured of this disease. Guinea worm disease is set for eradication. Previously, only one disease – smallpox – had ever been eradicated. 19 April 2007Political leaders and scientists as well as representatives of banks, foundations and a number of leading pharmaceutical companies are gathered in Geneva today for a meeting organized by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) in a bid to galvanize action to combat ‘forgotten’ tropical diseases, which afflict some 1 billion people annually.

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