World Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Day was marked on 30 January. Each year on this day, global health advocates highlight the impact of such diseases as well as the promising advances made against them. This year, we have a new backdrop. Collectively, we have a new understanding of what it means to live at risk of infectious diseases and of the interconnected nature of life on our planet. We’ve seen the devastating impact of COVID-19, and we’ve also seen that when the world unites to combat a pandemic threat, new tools to address it can be developed quickly.
While the devastation from COVID-19 was beyond imagination for many, those who live in or work with communities with NTDs such as tuberculosis (TB), malaria, and HIV/AIDS experience similar impact from many of these diseases as a persistent reality. NTDs affect more than a billion people each year. In 2019, there were 1.4 million deaths from TB, 409,000 deaths from malaria, and 690,000 deaths from AIDS-related illnesses. Like COVID-19, these diseases have significant impacts on the global economy, and especially on the economies of nations where they are most prevalent.
A notable bright spot in global progress against NTDs is the recent wave of successes by product development partnerships (PDPs). These organisations have spearheaded cost-effective and impactful product development to combat these disease threats. The history, impact, and future potential of PDPs are documented in a recently released report, Keeping the promise, which reveals that since 2010, a group of 12 PDPs have developed and introduced 66 new treatments, vaccines, diagnostics, vector controls and devices for diseases of poverty, which have benefitted more than 2.4 billion people around the world.
PDPs are collaborations between the public, private and not-for-profit sectors formed specifically to develop solutions for diseases where there is not sufficient market incentive to drive new product development by for-profit actors alone. PDPs are funded by governments, including Australia, and foundations. They make use of their innovative model to forge cross-sector partnerships that enable them to be efficient engines of global health innovation. Today, the coalition of PDPs behind the Keeping the Promise report boast more than 375 medical technologies in development.
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