New Commitments to Fight Neglected Diseases Lauded

The World Health Organizations has announced commitments made by big drug companies to provide free medicines to neglected tropical diseases. Photo by: Okko Pyykkö / CC BY Okko PyykköCC BY

Recent commitments made by several pharmaceutical companies to provide free medicines to 17 diseases classified by the United Nations as neglected tropical diseases are good news and a welcome move, a development and aid transparency advocate says.

“This is a big deal. Though this WHO statement is wrapped up in medical language, it means, for example, that GSK have just announced they will give away drugs which prevent intestinal worms in children,” Owen Barder writes in a blog entry, referring to the World Health Organization’s announcement of commitments made by drug companies such as Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-aventis and Bayer.

The commitments are a welcome development, especially in times when pharmaceutical companies are constantly under fire for not investing enough in research for drugs that could address neglected tropical diseases, says Barder, a visiting fellow at the Center for Global Development and director of aid transparency initiative Aidinfo.

Barder opines that pharmaceutical companies should not be actually blamed for the lack of focus on such research, which is largely considered unprofitable.

“I can see why this pursuit of profit leaves a bad taste in the mouths of some activists. Personally I don’t blame drugs companies for this. They are responding to the economic incentives we set for them,” he says.

He does note that the recent commitments made by drug companies will not fully meet the challenge of addressing neglected tropical diseases, but that they are start.  

“There are no magic bullets in development. Free drugs does not mean that they will reach the poor. There will need to be investment in health systems and logistics to make sure these drugs reach people,” Barder explains.

About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.