Tropical diseases have evolved since the 90′s, says DNDi director

Publicação: 18 de June de 2014

Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America are the most affected regions by tropical diseases.

Health is one of the most important requirements for social and economic development, and facing the tropical diseases issue must be a priority in the national and international agendas

Health is one of the most important requirements for social and economic development, and facing the tropical diseases issue must be a priority in the national and international agendas

Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America are the most affected regions by tropical diseases, as highlights Dr. Eric Stobbaerts, executive director of the Medication initiative for the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative – DNDi in South America. He explains that these diseases strike mainly the disfavored populations living in rural regions or in the cities’ peripheries, especially in places with unhealthy water supply, lack of sewage, poor residences with little or no access to health care. “But the epidemiology of these diseases is in change, once human mobility is growing and urbanization and globalization phenomena tend to cause, gradually, more and more impact in the society’s and world’s other spheres”, comments.

Dr. Stobbaerts stresses that, on the planet, these diseases affect the lives of over a billion people – or 1 sixth of the world population. Many are lethal an all represent a live threat. “These diseases are often not seen because rarely cause dramatic epidemic peeks, killing a large number of people in a short period of time. On the contrary, these diseases extend their damaging consequences in long periods, bringing deformity, severe deficiency and slow death”, says while reminding that besides this, some vulnerable groups are in greater morbidity and mortality risk, as children, pregnant women or people with co-infections due to low immunity.

Cutaneous leishmaniasis, for example, is not lethal, but causes severe disfiguration that lead to strong social stigmas. We are constantly searching an effective topic formulation that allows a shorter treatment, of easier administration and that, above all, is not a life threat for the patients”, points. Dr. Stobbaerts also stresses visceral leishmaniasis, a real global disease affecting populations in Latin America, Africa and India with a mortality rate of over 10% per year – around 20 to 40 thousand deaths every year.

Forgotten populations

According to Prof. Carlos Morel, in the article Promotoras da Pobreza (Poverty Promoters, in English) published in 2011, the neglected diseases incarcerate populations in a vicious cycle of poverty and diseases. They are people, including children, who sicken and cannot study or work, creating financial and educational problems that repeat for generations. “This burden is not only microeconomic, but also impact national development. Recent studies conducted by Sabin Vaccine Institute, from the USA, show that Chagas disease patients not responding medical needs cost Brazil USD129 million annually”, highlights Dr. Stobbaerts while determining the importance to consider the investments from the past decades in innovation for these diseases, is still small if compared to what is dedicated to other diseases that represent a profitable market.

The executive director from DNDi Latin America assures that health is one of the most important requirements for social and economic development, and facing the tropical diseases load must be a priority for the national and international agendas. He believes that our ability to respond to these diseases’ crisis will mark, for better or for worse, the civilization model for tomorrow. “We want a sustainable society that favors equity and access to basic services or an unbalanced society that only reacts to social and sanitary emergences through charity?”, questions.

Investing in drugs

“I am part of those who, paradoxically, believe that neglected diseases are an opportunity, for endemic countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Mexico or Colombia to drive and lead scientific and industrial innovation. This is a major challenge for Latin America”, evaluates Dr. Stobbaerts while assuring there is a large funding potential in Latin America, and a network of excellence centers through which the region could become key to their own problems’ responses.

According to him, there are significant advances in drug development capable of combatting these diseases. “In a recent study, we saw that during the last decade, the private industry sponsored 23% – nearly a ¼ – of the clinical studies for new drugs and diagnosis against neglected diseases if compared to the meaningless statistics from the past decade”, says the expert while adding that, if we look to the past, the level of the beginning of the 90s is completely different from today.

“DNDi has firmed essential partnerships with the pharmaceutical industry, for example, with Sanofi to develop the drug ASAQ – against malaria – registered in 31 African countries with over 250 million distributed treatments” highlights while saying that, currently, DNDi has also involved the industry as an essential partner in the first stages of research, through access to composite libraries. “This means that a determined molecule, tested and discarded as a potential candidate for a medication against diabetes, for example, can be favorable against another disease. Therefore, this is very good from the operational side, it gives us access to potential new composites and DNDi’s success lies in these multinationals openings”, emphasizes while complementing that these partnerships, although necessary, for allowing significant innovations, do not deeply approach the matter. According to Dr. Stobbaerts, unfortunately, what moves the health research, whether in the private or public sector, is the expectation of profit, a patent or a general incentive.

The executive director of DNDi Latin America reminds that the funding sources for research on these diseases are still coming from the large international cooperation agencies from Europe, USA of large philanthropic foundations as Bill & Melinda Gates. “Regarding Chagas disease, for example, it would be a mistake to say there is no regional policy, but a lack of leadership in the endemic countries seeking a common agenda for innovation and increase the number of people with access to the treatment with the existent products”, alerts while stressing that things happen very slowly, very diffuse, and that the most excluded patients are still dying in silence.…