The world has made a huge progress in its fight against neglected tropical diseases, and efforts have been ramped up since a key meeting in London five years ago, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation says.

The London meeting resulted in a pledge to control or eliminate 10 neglected tropical diseases – including guinea worm, river blindness and trachoma – by 2020.Some 170,000 people die from one of the illnesses every year, but their biggest impact is disabling their sufferers.

In an interview, Bill Gates praised pharmaceutical companies for “doing their part in a great relationship” by donating treatment at “a phenomenal scale”.In 2015, one billion people worldwide were treated for at least one tropical disease. Companies have donated seven billion treatments since 2012.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said improving water and sanitation was key to driving further progress.

According to Gates, none of the diseases are getting worse and they are less neglected than they used to be. “We’re behind on some of the very ambitious goals which were set in London for 2020 – but the burden from all these diseases is getting better,” he said.

He also noted the big reduction in the population needed to be treated for some diseases. For example, the number of people with lymphatic filariasis, a mosquito-borne worm which causes limbs to swell, went down from 1.5 billion to one billion people.Guinea worm is close to the end as well, with only 25 cases last year. Although the unrest in South Sudan is making the work harder, Gates said it’s not going to spread back in big numbers.

Progress has also been made on sleeping sickness – which is a parasitic infection which can kill – with cases now down to under 3,000. “It’s a hard area to explain because it’s not just one disease – and there is a certain complexity to the individual diseases,” added.

Five of the 10 diseases are tackled with big programmes to distribute multiple drugs, requiring lots of co-ordination to deliver and evaluate treatment in an efficient way.

Gates was speaking from a meeting in Geneva, where new commitments worth US$812million (£641million) have been made by governments, drug companies and charitable bodies.

He also applauded the UK government’s announcement that it would double support for fighting neglected tropical diseases, adding an extra £200 million in investment.Over the next four years, the UK will spend a total of £360million on programmes.

International Development Secretary Priti Patel said the UK’s support would protect more than 200 million people “from a future blighted by tropical disease”.

“These diseases belong to the last century. They cause unimaginable suffering and pain to some of the world’s poorest people, forcing them into a deeper cycle of poverty with no way out. Yet they are treatable,” Patel said. “These diseases have been named ‘neglected’ for a reason, but I’m not prepared for them to be neglected any longer.”

Courtesy of Healthcare Asia