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Get Big Pharma to pay more attention to dealing with Neglected Tropical Diseases

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The poorest people are not only poor. They are also chronically sick, making it harder for them to escape poverty.’ This quote is from one of the world’s leading advocates on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), Dr. Peter Hotez. Most people have heard of HIV/AIDS or malaria but if one were to ask the general public whether they have heard of onchocerciasis, the response would be largely negative. This is because this and such diseases have been mostly neglected by the media and by governments, resulting in a lack of awareness about them. As well as working to develop vaccines to combat these diseases, Dr. Hotez also campaigns for awareness to be raised and money to be invested in dealing with them, such as through foreign policy schemes. He, like many other campaigners in this area, are not pursuing this area of research purely out of pity but believe that the improvement of the economies of developing countries is crucial for the development of our global economy. ‘Just 50 cents can treat and protect a person against all seven of the most common NTDs for up to one year’ so by raising awareness, we can generate investment into the eradication of NTDs which translates to an improvement in global economy. The idea of a global economy is complex: it is defined as ‘world-wide economic activity between various countries that are considered intertwined and thus can affect other countries negatively or positively.’ The idea that countries are inextricably linked means that though NTDs occur in Africa and South-East Asia, the lack of economic progress in these countries is hindering the whole global economy. The reason that these diseases affect economic progress is because they cause a vicious cycle wherein diseases occur as a result of poverty but also result in poverty – this is often manifested through multiple generations. 

The large pharmaceutical companies – Big Pharma – do not invest in research, treatment and prevention of NTDs. In 2015, Sanofi Pasteur ceased production of Africa’s only snake-bite anti-venom. Snake-bites almost fall into the classification of NTDs and therefore are an adequate example of the lack of interest of Big Pharma in NTDs. In his book ‘Bad Pharma’, Ben Goldacre talks about how Big Pharma are only interested in using developing countries as either a test market due to their lack of regulation or as a disposal facility to deal with the drugs that they can no longer sell in Europe or America. According to the Lancet Commission on Investing in Health, much of the burden posed by NTDs could be prevented for an annual cost of between $300m and $400m. The global pharma industry is worth $300bn – yet pharmaceutical research and development investment in NTDs actually fell by $193m (£127m) in 2013. And pharma companies have been accused of “not pulling their weight”, contributing just 12% of global funding, a decrease of $74m since 2010. This is blamed on the consolidation of the pharma industry through mergers and acquisitions, pushing companies to compete “for the mega-bucks of blockbuster drugs sold in the US, Europe and Japan”. As a result, “NTDs look less commercially attractive”. The profit margin of something like Viagra for example is much greater than that of vaccines against worm infections. Again, through increased campaigning and awareness, Big Pharma have also collaborated in recent years with campaign organizations to invest in the eradication of NTDs as they realize the benefits it poses for the global economy.

Please sign this petition to encourage Big Pharma to not sideline Neglected Tropical Diseases but instead work with governments to improve research and campaigns to deal with them. This will be a huge step in dealing with World Poverty and inequality.

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