September 22, 2006
RTI International Joins Effort to Reduce Impact of Neglected Tropical Diseases in Developing Nations
USAID-funded collaboration aims to treat more than 40 million people
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. -- As part of an effort to reduce the impact of neglected tropical diseases in developing nations, RTI International has been selected by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to implement a collaborative program designed to treat approximately 40 million people annually for five years.
The project represents one of the first large-scale efforts to integrate existing disease-specific treatment programs that currently treat millions of the world’s poorest people. In doing so, the project will build on the success of those programs and enhance their effectiveness and efficiency by integrating treatment, monitoring and evaluation programs.
Under the terms of the cooperative agreement, worth $100 million, RTI will lead a team that includes Liverpool Associates in Tropical Health (LATH), the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative at Imperial College London, and the International Trachoma Initiative.
"Neglected diseases are a huge burden," said Richard Greene, director of the Office of Health, Infectious Disease and Nutrition at USAID. "This significant investment will improve the lives of millions of people afflicted with disabling conditions through effective, low-cost mass drug administration and associated education programs."
The USAID-funded program will focus on integrated control of five of the most prevalent neglected tropical diseases -- trachoma (blinding eye infection), soil-transmitted helminths (hookworm, ascaris, trichuris), onchocerciasis (river blindness), schistosomiasis (snail fever) and lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis).
These particular diseases were chosen because they can be treated through large-scale integrated programs using safe and effective drugs made available through public-private partnerships.
"Taken as a group, the neglected tropical diseases to be targeted have an impact on health equivalent to that of malaria," said Alan Fenwick, Ph.D., project director for RTI International and formerly of Imperial College London. "Because many of these tropical diseases occur in the same areas and affect the same populations, distributing safe treatments for them will be more effective and cost efficient and will help make a substantial contribution toward achieving the Millennium Development Goal of combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases."
While they have little name recognition in developed societies, neglected tropical diseases cause severe disabilities such as blindness, reduced mobility, impaired childhood growth and intellectual development, and severe disfigurements in developing nations. Along with several others, they are responsible for about 415,000 deaths annually worldwide and are among the leading causes of poverty in developing countries.
The project will target countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America that have a high prevalence of the targeted diseases and have recognized them as a national health priority.
"Nearly 10 percent of the world's population is at risk of blindness from trachoma, but its impact goes well beyond vision," said Dr. Jacob Kumaresan, president of the International Trachoma Initiative. "The burden of trachoma and all the neglected tropical diseases this campaign will address contribute to reduced productivity and development among 'the poorest of the poor.' Families and entire communities are shackled within the cycle of poverty as these diseases pass from one generation to the next. This campaign will alleviate unnecessary suffering for millions of people, and improve their health and standard of living."
Through the collaborative effort, RTI and its partners will work with the ministries of health and nongovernmental organizations in each country to develop treatment programs that best meet the needs of each country. As part of the project, RTI will establish an independent committee that will award and oversee grants to countries and organizations that will benefit from a mass treatment campaign.
"We are very pleased that the U.S. Agency for International Development is supporting this important initiative," said David Molyneux, senior project adviser to LATH and director of the School's Lymphatic Filariasis Support Centre in Liverpool. "I suspect many people in developed nations would be surprised that these diseases can be treated for less than 50 cents per person. By integrating our efforts with those of our partners, we can make a significant impact by preventing massive disability and the attendant poverty that these diseases cause."
Liverpool Associates in Tropical Health
Alan Hughes, Communications Manager
Office: +44 (0)151 705 3199
Mobile: +44 (0)7759 243969
Schistosomiasis Control Initiative at Imperial College London
Laura Gallagher, Press Officer
Office: +44 (0)207 594 6702 or ext. 46702
International Trachoma Initiative
Dennis da Costa, Director of Communications and Advocacy
Office: 212-490-6460, ext. 34