EU urged to fund research on ‘terrible triangle’ of disease

The European Commission is failing to pay its “fair share” in funding research into the main poverty-related killers HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, according to health NGOs.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), an international medical humanitarian organisation, is calling on the Commission to increase its funding “five-fold” into research for medical tools to fight tuberculosis (TB).

“This is ever more urgent given TB’s rapid spread among people living with HIV and the rise of drug-resistant strains of the disease, which do not respond to many of the commonly-used treatments,” MSF underlines. “Europe’s responsibility here is clear,” said Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, director of MSF’s campaign for access to essential medicines. “Countries right on Europe’s doorstep – and even within the European Union – are struggling against resistant strains of the disease. But the research budgets remain pitifully low,” he added. 

Speaking at a conference on poverty-related diseases on 13 November, EU Research Commissioner Janez Poto?nik acknowledged that “sitting in our comfortable European homes, with well-developed healthcare systems, it is all too easy to forget about the pernicious impact that infectious disease has across the world”. 

He noted that AIDS, TB and malaria – the “terrible triangle” – kill five million people each year and that a health crisis of this dimension was disastrous not only on a personal level, but also “a major obstacle to development” and thus a threat to humanity. 

The aim of the conference was to identify research priorities for these three main killers and consider ways of increasing the impact of EU-funded research to combat them. 

“It’s all about research responsibility,” said Poto?nik, listing the roles of different stakeholders on the issue. According to him, all countries should take responsibility through targeted policies and real cooperation, while the pharmaceutical industry should plan and implement more focused R&D strategies to deal with the problem.

He urged donors to continue helping developing countries’ governments to design and implement sound and comprehensive research and health policies. He further urged scientists to team up with policymakers and businesses in this regard.

Positions

Oxfam, an international NGO, deplored that "after years of scientific progress, still less than 10% of all medical research is being dedicated to diseases afflicting more than 90% of the world's population". "R&D that focuses on the developing world's urgent needs is still highly dependent and driven by intellectual property, even though this system is demonstrably failing the poor," noted Oxfam's policy advisor Rohit Malpani.  

The NGO is calling on the World Health Organisation (WHO) to establish a Global Fund for Research and Development to stimulate innovation for poverty-related disesases. "For too many years, the poor have been handed the leftover scraps from our global system of medical innovation. A U-turn on R&D practices from the current industry-led and uncoordinated system is badly needed," Malpani said.

Background

The EU provides support to measures dealing with the three main poverty-related diseases (HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis) in developing countries. The overall objective is to optimise the impact of existing intervention, increase the affordability of key pharmaceuticals and diagnostics and increase R&D of vaccines, microbicides and innovative treatment.

An EU action programme (2007-2011) on HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis aims to "make up the financial shortfall" for combatting them through external action. 

Timeline

Further Reading