Bill and Melinda Gates’ recent annual letter includes an audacious set of global goals for the world to work toward over the next 15 years, which include accelerating lifestyle improvements for poor populations around the world. In order to accomplish this, the couple believes that erasing three neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) is crucial, a goal for which the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine has been working toward since its inception.
Among the four topics that the Gates’ letter establishes sets forth as priorities — health, farming, banking and education — the couple believes that addressing world health issues among the poor is chiefly important, since “child deaths will go down, and more diseases will go down.” Therefore, they call for a global effort to eradicate wipe polio and three other NTDs from the earth.
“We’re putting our credibility, time, and money behind this bet — and asking others to join us — because we think there has never been a better time to accelerate progress and have a big impact around the world,” Bill and Melinda Gates wrote. “We think the next 15 years will see major breakthroughs for most people in poor countries. They will be living longer and in better health. They will have unprecedented opportunities to get an education, eat nutritious food, and benefit from mobile banking.”
Bill and Melinda Gates believe that it is possible to address these diseases through the use of better technology and medication distribution. In addition to polio, the letter states that “we’ll also see the last of diseases like elephantiasis, river blindness, and blinding trachoma, which disable tens of millions of people in poor countries.”
“The drugs that can stop these scourges are now being donated in huge numbers by pharmaceutical companies, and they’re being used more strategically thanks to advances in digital maps that show where diseases are most prevalent. Last year these free medicines were distributed to 800 million people.”
As part of the Gates’ effort to address NTDs, the National School of Tropical Medicine (NTSM) is one of the nation’s premier facilities dedicated to ending these diseases, including elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis, or LF), river blindness (onchocerciasis) and blinding trachoma. Dr. Peter Hotez, Dean of the NTSM, reacted to the Gates’ annual letter, writing that “the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine is pleased that the Gates annual letter highlighted the opportunities for eliminating NTDs such as LF, trachoma and onchocerciasis in our lifetimes,” in a post on the BCM Momentum blog.
Hotez, who was recently named science adviser to the White House, also believes in the goal, and he expressed the belief that erasing these diseases is necessary to aggressively scale mass treatments, integrate mass drug administration, and develop new technologies. In addition, the dean explains that “their goals and aspirations are closely aligned with our work on these and other NTDs and a major reason why we established the National School in 2011: applying translational science to solve the world’s most pressing tropical disease issues.”
Focusing on river blindness, The Onchoerciasis Vaccine for Africa (TOVA) Initiative from the National School of Tropical Medicine is in line with the Bill and Melinda Foundation’s goal of eliminating such diseases in Africa. In addition, the researchers led by Peter Hotez are also working on other programs, such as the development of new vaccines for human hookworm infection and schistosomiasis, which are already in different phases of clinical trials being conducted in the United States, Brazil and Gabon.
The School has also been dedicated to offering healthcare professionals training for improving diagnosis and treatment of NTDs, as well as in providing a four-pronged approach of education, clinical care, research and public policy. Other vaccines are also in earlier stages of development, including ones for Chagas disease, leishmaniasis, ascariasis, trichuriasis, SARS and West Nile virus infection.
“We look forward to working with the Gates Foundation and our partners and collaborators in fulfilling this vision for what the world will look like in 15 years!” concluded Hotez, who has also established collaborations with Texas Children’s Hospital, the Sabin Vaccine Institute, Rice University and Baylor University to improve the outcomes of the school research.
The World Health Organization (WHO) also considers NTDs to be a very important public health topic, considering that the growth of developing nations such as Indonesia are being stunted by the diseases affecting its population. As an example, Indonesia, which is fast becoming a critical player in the world’s globalized economy, is still a poor country, in spite of having quickly developed into a viable source of economic and trade activity. Despite this, erasing NTDs has also become a top priority for the WHO authorities and the national government of Indonesia. Examples such as these further emphasize the Gates’ call for a sustained, concerted effort to curtail deadly and debilitating NTDs throughout the world in order to greatly reduce poverty and bolster world economics and growth.