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Neglected diseases

Topics Covered:

  1. Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources, issues relating to poverty and hunger.


Neglected diseases


What to study?

  • For Prelims: What are neglected tropical diseases?
  • For Mains: Neglected diseases- spread, vulnerable sections, concerns, measures and the need for international cooperation.


Context: A new report has found that the Indian government is the fourth largest funder for research and development into neglected tropical diseases.

  • The findings come from an analysis of global investment into research and development (R&D) on new products for neglected diseases in developing countries, as part of the eleventh annual G-Finder survey.
  • The survey looks at funding for a number of diseases like trachoma, buruli ulcer, rheumatic fever, meningitis, leptospirosis and also for HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, dengue, hepatitis C and leprosy.
  • It examines funding from government sources, philanthropies, private sector funding and other types of organisations.


Key findings of the report:

  1. With USD 1,595 million, the US government is the largest funder.
  2. The Indian government, which contributes USD 72 million, comes 4th.
  3. Among other low and middle income countries (LMICs), India is credited with being responsible for the “lion’s share” of public funding.
  4. India also records the strongest global growth in public funding for R&D on neglected diseases since 2009.


Need for and significance of R&D into neglected tropical diseases:

The need for drugs for neglected diseases and also for drug R&D is high in India. The country tops the number of cases for 11 different neglected tropical diseases such as lymphatic filariasis, visceral leishmaniasis, trachoma, tapeworm, roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, dengue and leprosy.

In 2017, there were around 2.8 million new cases of TB, which brought down the global decline of TB. One third of all TB deaths worldwide happen in India.


Recent policies on neglected diseases research in India:

The National Health Policy (2017) sets an ambition to stimulate innovation to meet health needs and ensure that new drugs are affordable for those who need them most, but it does not specifically tackle neglected diseases.

The National Policy on Treatment of Rare Diseases (2018) includes infectious tropical diseases and identifies a need to support research on treatments for rare diseases. It has not yet prioritised diseases and areas for research funding or how innovation would be supported.


What’s missing?

  • A comprehensive policy to foster research and innovation in drug discovery, diagnostics, and vaccine development in neglected tropical diseases is lacking.
  • While political intent and will are expressed in a few, clear operational plans and funding mechanisms are not specified. Consequently, follow-up action is patchy or absent.
  • No institutional mechanism exists at a national level to identify gaps in neglected diseases research, set priorities, liaise with research institutions, or monitor research output. There is often no coordination between the various funding and research bodies to prioritise the research agenda and minimise duplication.


Way ahead:

A unified programme on neglected diseases encompassing research and elimination measures is likely to have a greater impact in prioritising the matter in the health agenda and streamlining efforts towards disease elimination. Creating an enabling environment for research and innovation will be crucial if India is to achieve the target set in sustainable development goal 3.3 to end epidemics of neglected tropical diseases by 2030.


Why are some tropical diseases called “neglected”?

The people who are most affected by these diseases are often the poorest populations, living in remote, rural areas, urban slums or conflict zones. Neglected tropical diseases persist under conditions of poverty and are concentrated almost exclusively in impoverished populations in the developing world.


Challenges and concerns:

  1. Lacking a strong political voice, people affected by these tropical diseases have a low profile and status in public health priorities.
  2. Lack of reliable statistics and unpronounceable names of diseases have all hampered efforts to bring them out of the shadows.
  3. Neglected tropical diseases affect more than 1 billion people, primarily poor populations living in tropical and subtropical climates.
  4. They are frequently clustered together geographically and individuals are often afflicted with more than one parasite or infection. More than 70% of countries and territories that report the presence of neglected tropical diseases are low-income or lower middle-income economies.


Spread and control:

  • Infections are caused by unsafe water, poor housing conditions and poor sanitation. Children are the most vulnerable to these diseases, which kill, impair or permanently disable millions of people every year, often resulting in life-long physical pain and social stigmatization.
  • Many neglected tropical diseases can be prevented, eliminated or even eradicated with improved access to existing safe and cost-effective tools. Control relies on simple interventions that can be carried out by non-specialists — for example schoolteachers, village heads and local volunteers — in community-based preventive action.


Sources: the hindu.