Gates Foundation Grant Will Boost Fight against "Neglected" Diseases

New Funds Announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

Washington, Feb. 3, 2009 (PAHO) - Efforts to prevent, control and eliminate "forgotten" tropical and other infectious diseases in the Americas received a new stimulus with the announcement of a $34 million grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases. The announcement came last Friday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Dr. Mirta Roses, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), today welcomed the grant, which includes seed financing to establish a trust fund to be managed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in collaboration with PAHO and the Sabin Institute, headquarters for the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases. The fund will support efforts by governments and communities to fight neglected diseases through the following:

  • Increased rapid-response health interventions to control and eliminate neglected infectious diseases;
  • Strengthening of national and local health systems, particularly information systems;
  • Adopting intersectoral and interprogrammatic approaches to address the social determinants underlying these diseases.

PAHO is expected to play a fundamental role through its ongoing work in mapping the incidence of these diseases in the Americas. The mapping helps pinpoint problems with greater precision while identifying gaps in information and action. PAHO will also spearhead technical cooperation efforts and provide expertise to support the development of national and local plans for control and elimination of these diseases.

PAHO Director Roses said the new funds will help reduce the burden of neglected diseases, which disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable populations. "Given that we have the necessary tools and knowledge about these diseases, eliminating them is not only possible, it is imperative," she said.

The Gates funds will help fight a number of neglected diseases in the Americas, including lymphatic filariasis, oncocerciasis, intestinal worms, leprosy, Chagas' disease, trachoma, rabies transmitted by dogs, neonatal tetanus, congenital syphilis, and schistosomiasis. These diseases mainly affect poor and marginalized populations, such as indigenous groups, isolated rural communities, poor peri-urban communities, and afro-descendant populations.

In Latin America, 9 million people are chronically infected with Chagas' disease, with 40,000 new cases each year. PAHO/WHO estimates that millions of people, particularly children, in Latin America and the Caribbean have intestinal worms. Lymphatic filariasis affects more than half a million people in the Region, and an estimated 11 million are at risk of the disease, principally in Haiti but also in the Dominican Republic, Guyana, and northeastern Brazil. Schistosomiasis affects at least four countries in the Region, with more than 25 million people at risk of infection.

Given the current economic crisis, it is more important than ever to work together to help the poorest, who bear the greatest burden of these diseases, Bill Gates said in a press conference held to announce the new funds.

PAHO will work jointly with the IDB and the Global Network/Sabin Vaccine Institute in an innovative partnership model to gather resources from public and private philanthropists and other donors to prevent, control, and eliminate neglected infectious diseases as well as reduce health inequities by serving poor and marginalized groups.

Friday's announcement by the Gates Foundation marks a major step forward for these efforts.

The Pan American Health Organization, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples. It serves as the Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO).

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