Neglected Diseases – Neglected People

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Infectious viral disease is a primary cause of death in the Global South and a major impediment to economic and social development.

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  • 2.5 million people die each year from AIDS, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • 3 billion people are at risk of infection with Dengue fever; 5 million are infected each year.
  • Rotavirus, a cause of common diarrhoea, kills an estimated 600,000 children each year.
  • 170 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis C, three percent of the world’s population.
  • In West Africa alone, there are 500,000 cases a year of Lassa fever.

Despite these horrendous figures, few drugs are available for these diseases; even fewer reach those in need. Between 1975 and 2004, only one percent of new chemical entities commercialized were designed specifically to treat infectious disease. A study by the Global Forum for Health Research concluded that of the US$73 billion invested annually in global health research, less than 10% is devoted to research into the health problems that account for 90% of the global disease burden, a situation that is termed “the 10/90 gap”.

As a consequence, diseases that kill millions of people each year are left to flourish, creating what are known as neglected diseases, or those diseases for which therapies are either ineffective, too expensive or nonexistent. The Millennium Development Goals—adopted by the United Nations in the year 2000 as the global benchmark for development—state the importance of confronting infectious viral diseases by designating their defeat as one of the eight principal targets.