Over the next two years, Belgium will contribute 4.4 million euros (5 million US dollars) to the fight against forgotten tropical diseases. This will be done through the Extended Special Project for Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (ESPEN), a project of the World Health Organization which aims to control and even eliminate five tropical diseases. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will double the Belgian contribution, giving twenty million people access to the necessary treatments over the next two years.
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Even though treatments are available, 170,000 people die each year from neglected tropical diseases. Others have to deal with the consequences throughout their whole lives, like blindness. Neglected tropical diseases occur in communities where access to drinking water, sanitation and health care is inadequate. They are therefore both cause and result of poverty.
Five years ago, a coalition of philanthropic organizations, donor countries, governments of countries affected by neglected tropical diseases, and pharmaceutical companies signed the London Declaration. They committed themselves to focus on five neglected tropical diseases, which can be controlled and even eliminated with mass drug administration. Since then, pharmaceutical companies, including Merck, Pfizer, Eisai and Sanofi have donated more than 17.8 billion euros in medicines. The WHO set up a special project to mobilize political, technical and financial support: the Extended Special Project for Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (ESPEN).
Twenty million people
Over the next two years, Belgium pledges 4.4 million euro (5 million US dollar) to ESPEN. The Bill & Melinda Foundation will double this contribution. This joint investment offers a leverage to provide a total of 300 million US dollars in medicines to 20 million people affected by a neglected tropical disease.
Alexander De Croo: “Belgium wants to step up the fight against neglected tropical diseases and break the vicious circle of poverty-disease-poverty. Every euro invested is good for two treatments. By joining forces with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we can improve the lives of twenty million people over the next two years.”
Mark Suzman, Chief Strategy Officer and President of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: “By investing in eliminating neglected tropical diseases, we help children in the world’s poorest communities to stay in school and adults to earn a decent income. We are grateful to the Belgian government and the Belgian people for adding five million to our efforts. With this joint effort, ESPEN can provide more than 300 million US dollars in medication to more than twenty million people in need.”
This collaboration builds on the partnership between Belgium and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on sleeping sickness. Last year, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Bill Gates announced at the WHO in Geneva that they would join forces to eliminate sleeping sickness by 2025.
The sleeping sickness currently threatens 50 million people, 85% of the victims are in DRC. From 2017 to 2025, the Belgian government will invest a total of 27 million euros to eliminate the disease in the DRC. Also here, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is committed to double the Belgian contribution.