Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) affect over one billion people worldwide. Many of those affected live in poverty with poor sanitary conditions and in close contact with infectious vectors. The diseases can render those affected unable to work and many cause disfigurement and disabilities or even death. They impact life expectancy, education and have negative economic consequences for both the individual and society.
Analyzing Germany’s contribution to combatting NTDs
Despite the prevalence of these diseases in many countries, NTDs are unknown in Germany. These diseases disproportionately affect poor populations.
In December 2017, the German Network against Neglected Tropical Diseases released a study entitled “Integrated implementation in combatting NTDs – the potential of Germany.” The study, which is the focus of this article, was conducted by Ilona Kickbusch – advisor to the World Health Organization and the German Federal Ministry of Health – and sought to analyze Germany’s involvement in combatting NTDs and how the country could better its contribution to reduce the spread of NTDs.
Supporting a sustainable healthcare solution
German international health policy focused on strengthening health systems but the fight against NTDs has thus far played a minor role. A possible explanation for this is the fact that a key measure in combatting NTDs is preventive mass drug administration which is a “vertical” health program. Vertical programs tend to target specific areas, and, on the whole, do not broadly address basic healthcare needs. Nowadays, vertical healthcare programs are expected to also pursue the goal of making healthcare accessible for all, Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
In September 2015, the United Nations encouraged countries to adopt a set of 17 goals to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all; the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The fight against NTDs fits into the context of SDGs, promoting a “horizontal” health program that also addresses factors such as access to clean drinking water and sanitary conditions. A health care system that does not tackle these issues will not achieve a sustainable solution to the issue; it is important that health care measures embrace the notion of UHC.
Germany’s potential to pioneer NTD fight
According to the study, this context plays to Germany’s strengths. The potential for Germany to play a key role in tackling NTDs is rooted in three characteristics of German development and health policy:
Germany is seen as a country that could pioneer the integration of the fight against NTDs into health system agenda.
The London Declaration and Bayer's commitment to combatting NTDs
While Germany could help pave the way to fighting NTDs, the importance of cross-sectoral cooperation and public-private partnerships are fundamental to further strengthen research and development in the area.
In 2012 a group, initiated by pharmaceutical companies (including Bayer) and the Bill & Melinda Foundation, together with governments and philanthropic organizations as well as NGOs, academia, and research, signed the London Declaration with the objective to control, eliminate or eradicate 10 NTDs by 2020.
Bayer is committed and engaged in a long-standing fight against NTDs with its compounds Suramin and Nifurtimox to tackle African sleeping sickness and Chagas Disease. For more than 10 years, these medicines have been donated free of charge to the World Health Organization (WHO). Bayer also scaled up its engagement by developing a pediatric formulation of the compound Nifurtimox for Chagas disease and by giving access to selected substances from its compound libraries to third parties in order to find new treatments for NTDs.
World Health Organization - Neglected Tropical Diseases http://www.who.int/neglected_diseases/diseases/en; Last accessed January 2018
German Network against Neglected Tropical Diseases - Study - Integrated Implementation in Combatting Neglected Tropical Diseases – The Potential of Germany http://www.dntds.de/de/publikationen.html; Last accessed January 2018
United Nations – Sustainable Development Goals http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/; Last accessed January 2018
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention www.cdc.gov/globalhealth/ntd/diseases/index.html; Last accessed January 2018