UK government backs Imperial researchers in drive to eliminate neglected tropical diseases


Renewed support from the British government will enable research groups based at Imperial to distribute an additional 100 million treatments for schistosomiasis in Africa.

Monday 23 January 2012

By Sam Wong

Renewed support from the British government will enable research groups based at Imperial College London to distribute an additional 100 million treatments for schistosomiasis in Africa. The Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI) and the Partnership for Child Development (PCD) will play a key role in a global push to eliminate infectious tropical diseases announced today by the International Development Minister Stephen O’Brien.

The Department for International Development (DfID) has pledged a five-fold increase in Britain’s support as part of an international effort to help rid the world of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), which currently affect one billion people and kill more than half a million every year.

Sufferers of NTDs are often immobile with adults unable to work to support their families and children forced to miss school for weeks, or even months, at a time. The diseases can force communities into deeper poverty as the disabled and unemployed adults struggle to afford food and basic services, including healthcare, and generations of children grow up with little education and few prospects for the future.

Schistosomiasis is caused by a parasitic worm infection which invades the body during contact with contaminated fresh water. It leads to chronic ill health, damages internal organs, impairs the growth of children and causes more than 200,000 deaths a year in Africa. Intestinal helminths are common in children who live without clean water and sanitation.

The SCI and the PCD at Imperial, in partnership with the Centre for Neglected Tropical Diseases (CNTD) at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, will receive £25 million over four years to provide 100 million treatments to protect 40 million people from schistosomiasis in at least eight African countries, including Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia.

Professor Alan Fenwick, Director of the SCI, from the School of Public Health at Imperial, said: “The DfID announcement increasing the funding for neglected tropical diseases is fantastic news and it will allow the programmes implementing treatment to expand their coverage much quicker than had been anticipated. For schistosomiasis and intestinal helminths the coverage in Africa will quickly reach up to 50 million treatments per year in collaboration with the World Health Organisation. 

“However, the need is at least double that figure, with 100 million children in rural Africa needing treatment every year, without counting the millions of adults who are infected. Therefore the public support which SCI has been receiving is critical to allow us to reach out into new countries and alleviate the suffering these diseases inflict.

“We look forward to working with PCD to improve school health by deworming, and to integrating our efforts with lymphatic filariasis control with colleagues from CNTD Liverpool”

Dr Lesley Drake, Executive Director of the PCD and Deworm the World Initiative, also from Imperial’s School of Public Health, said: “This donation by DFID is a huge step forward in catalysing efforts to combat diseases which affect the poorest of the poor.

“The evidence is uncontroversial; the health, education and long term development of children are severely compromised by these diseases and with a simple cost effective solution, we can provide them with a brighter future. With this support from DFID, the donation of drugs from the pharmaceutical companies, the collaboration of the global development community and the high level political support from endemic countries, we can see an end to this neglect.”

International Development Minister Stephen O’Brien said: “It is a tragedy that the lives of millions of the world’s poorest people are still being destroyed by these ancient and avoidable tropical diseases when we have the means to tackle them. These diseases thrive on poverty and have horrendous consequences for sufferers - especially children – leaving them in debilitating pain with severe disabilities. And for those who survive, they are left trapped in poverty as they are unable to work or attend school.

“It is the victims of these diseases who have been neglected for too long. The world is increasingly coming together to build on the long-standing commitment of the pharmaceutical industry to rid the world of these terrible diseases which disable, blind and kill millions every year.

“British support will take the neglected out of neglected tropical diseases and will not just save lives, but transform lives. By preventing the spread of these diseases and treating their victims, we will enable them to go to school and work so that they can help themselves out of poverty and eventually no longer rely on aid.”

Press office

Press Office
Communications and Public Affairs

Click to expand or contract

Contact details