Investment in innovation to tackle neglected tropical diseases can yield significant returns

21 September 2020 | Geneva −− Innovation should be tailored to address local problems and…

Investment in innovation to tackle neglected tropical diseases can yield significant returns

21 September 2020 | Geneva −− Innovation should be tailored to address local problems and unmet needs by engaging local partners and communities to accelerate work against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), and global ideas should embrace local conditions in order to deliver effective results.

These are two of the key messages from last Friday’s webinar on NTDs and the new road map for 2021–2030 entitled “Is it business as usual? What innovation is needed in NTDs to reach the 2030 targets across 20 diseases“. All 13 speakers highlighted the importance of innovation, research and working together across sectors to defeat NTDs during the next decade.

Panel one

Monique Wasunna, Director, Drugs for Neglected Tropical Diseases initiative, Africa Regional Office, set the tone by emphasizing how research and innovation, new tools, active partnership, efficient coordination and country involvement and ownership are essential to achieving the road map targets. She cited sleeping sickness as an example of the effectiveness of innovation –from combinations of medicines to the development of new medicines – to accelerate elimination.

Jutta Reinhard-Rupp, Head, Merck Global Health Institute, spoke of investment in the development of a paediatric formulation of praziquantel and of the need for more research to discover better treatments for schistosomiasis (bilharzia). New tools for diagnostics are being developed in collaboration with Johnson & Johnson.

Alicia White, Manager, Economist Intelligence Unit, commented on the costs of NTDs for health and economic productivity. Modelling work in four countries in sub-Saharan Africa on two NTDs (schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthiases) shows that innovative approaches can yield a significant return on investment.

Panel two

Patrick Lammie, Director, The Task Force for Global Health, said that the world cannot be using 19th century strategies to defeat a disease. Innovation can make the difference in accelerating elimination of onchocerciasis and loaiasis. Engaging programme managers and health workers in the field is important to implement laboratory work effectively and free people from river blindness. He also spoke of the opportunities afforded by molecular biology in tackling NTDs and of increased access to mobile technology and spatial technology tools, the full potential of which is not being harnessed against NTDs at the moment.

Emma Harding Esch, London School of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, noted the advantages of digital technology and of an electronic network of partners to support the development of new survey designs to enhance integration of NTD control programmes.

Joseph Ndung’u, Head, NTD Programme, Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, discussed the importance of innovative funding for multiplex diagnostics to ensure the development of diagnostics for all NTDs. One way of encouraging such development is to piggy-back on other diseases such as malaria that are co-endemic with NTDs such as sleeping sickness and leishmaniasis. Adequate “outward” funding can ensure the viability of procurement and the dissemination of new tools.

Simon Brooker, Deputy Director, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, noted how real‐time data analysis can help to identify appropriate solutions for local problems. We need to innovate and work differently in a world that has been changed drastically by COVID‐19. The pandemic has taught the world to find more impactful and sustainable solutions for programmes. An NTD Idea forum will soon be held to identify and fund innovative ideas to help optimize and accelerate NTD programmes.

Panel three

Babacar N’Gom, Data and Systems Manager, Sightsavers, Senegal shared how technology and personal held-tools such as mobile devices that store and share information instantaneously have changed the way some NTDs are being tackled. Artificial intelligence, big data, use of drones and unmanned means of delivering health supplies could accelerate progress in the next decade.

Maurice Odiere, Research Scientist, Kenya Medical Research Institute, highlighted the importance of country-level participation in research and innovation to ensure that clinical trials and solutions for NTDs are tailored locally. He also stressed the importance of strengthening local capacity for research to consider the ethical and cultural sensitivities of the population, which in turn fosters community trust and credibility.

Javier Moreno, Head, Unit for Leishmaniasis and Chagas Disease,‘Instituto de Salud Carlos III’ noted the important role of WHO Collaborating Centers in promoting effective local solutions. The ‘Instituto de Salud Carlos III’ is developing a rapid diagnostic test for leishmaniasis.

Marco Aurelio Krieger, Vice President, Production and Innovation in Health, Fiocruz, called for affordable point-of-care solutions to improve the way health care is provided to marginalized populations. A new protocol of tests for Chagas disease will be rolled out shortly for use in settings where laboratory facilities are not available.

Closing remarks

Vaseeharan Sathiyamoorthy, Coordinator, Research for Health, explained how WHO’s Science Division is following several areas of NTD work to explore their potential benefits to programmes. Artificial intelligence is also being explored to find new therapeutic solutions to support diagnostic approaches. WHO initiatives include the establishment of a Science Council and a WHO Academy that will focus on innovation and research.

Mwele Ntuli Malecela, Director, WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases, welcomed the ideas put forward by several speakers and observed that the current pandemic has shown how the world can push the boundaries of science faster than ever before through shared information and ideas. Research should also include concepts of equity and access in order to benefit the populations that NTD programmes serve. The pandemic has demonstrated the relevance of home-grown approaches as countries consider various ways to deliver NTD services locally. Outdated colonial methods of research and innovation should be replaced with stronger voices from the global South where NTDs are mostly found: stronger partnerships remain the cornerstone of service delivery for NTDs.

The full recording of the webinar can be accessed by clicking the link below:


The next webinar on 7 October will consider: “What role does disability, stigma and mental health play in achieving the NTD Roadmap targets?
Please register by accessing

Ashok Moloo


Telephone: +41 22 791 16 37

Mobile phone: +41 79 540 50 86
[email protected]

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