Paris city hall, the pyramids of Giza, the Christ of Rio… More than 50 monuments will light up on January 30 in 25 countries participating in the second World Day of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD). That is to say about twenty diseases which affect, according to Médecins sans frontières (MSF), 1.7 billion human beings.
Among them, rabies, dengue, but also kala-azar (or “visceral leishmaniasis”): caused by a parasite, this disease causes a persistent fever and destroys the immune system. Without treatment, it causes death in 75 to 95% of patients. “Little known, it affects around 700,000 people and kills around 30,000 per year”, says Dr. Gabriel Alcoba, member of Médecins sans frontières (MSF) specialist in the subject.
Which also highlights the consequences of snakebites: “ 140,000 dead, millions of people poisoned, with bleeding, trauma motors and amputations “. While anti-venoms are lacking, or are offered at a prohibitive price.
The danger of “covido-centrism”
“In the age of ‘covido-centrism’, we must shed light on these diseases, also called“ diseases of poverty ””, underlines Nathalie Strub-Wourgaft, in charge of the subject within the NGO Initiative for drugs in favor of neglected diseases (abbreviated DNDi in English).
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Based in Geneva, the organization promotes the development of drugs against NTDs and draws attention to these scourges, which mainly affect remote areas of countries in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. Fueling a vicious circle: “Generated by very precarious living conditions which favor infection, diseases place populations even further away and in poverty. “, sighs Nathalie Strub-Wourgaft.
The priority given to the coronavirus has stripped already insufficient resources: “Resources have been redirected to the detriment of programs dedicated to these diseases”, notes the manager. Not to mention the transport restrictions that have weakened the supply: some countries have stopped drug distribution campaigns.
The French Development Agency (AFD), which finances the DNDi approach, wants to be more optimistic: “There is an obvious risk of foreclosure, but neglected diseases remain high on our agenda”, assures Jérôme Weinbach, head of the Health and Social Protection division. According to him, the resources allocated to the Covid-19 will make it possible to constitute “Expert platforms for the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases, whatever they are”.
Low interest from the pharmaceutical industry
Another difficulty is the lack of interest from the pharmaceutical industry in the development of suitable drugs: “ The large companies tend to reduce their efforts, for obvious reasons of profitability: these products are unaffordable in the affected countries “, details Gabriel Alcoba.
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An economic calculation that does not prevent some progress: Sanofi has forged a partnership with DNDi which has made it possible to develop an effective tablet against sleeping sickness. Starting from an antiparasitic whose development began in the 1970s: “ It is possible to find a new indication for forgotten drugs », remarks Gabriel Alcoba. But eventually, “We must encourage made in Africa and work for the sovereignty of countries in their management and prevention of crises ”, pleads Jérôme Weinbach.
While the pandemic does not abate, it remains to be seen whether January 30 will be enough to raise enough funds. According to Gabriel Alcoba, it would be necessary “Reach the same level as the global fund against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria ”. Founded in 2002, it has made it possible to reduce these three diseases, by devoting 45 billion dollars (37 billion euros) to them.
The doctor warns about the consequences of slowing down the fight against neglected diseases, which could produce, “Within six months to a year”, terrible effects in terms of more infections and deaths.