EU overtakes UK on medical research for developing world

An injured civilian receives life-saving healthcare in Mosul, Iraq. [Photo: © EU/ECHO/Peter Biro/Flickr]

Bill Gates, the US businessman turned philanthropist, is in Brussels on Thursday (16 February) to unveil a new report into medical research and development for the developing world that shows the EU has overtaken the UK in terms of funding.

The 113-page report also warns of an overall drop in spending in 2015 – the year covered – in diseases that largely affect Africa and the developing world .

It rings the alarm that, “Global funding for neglected diseases R&D reached historic lows in 2015, driven by declining public sector investment.”

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Gates, the Microsoft founder turned philanthropist, is launching the report at a Friends of Europe event at 11AM, as part of his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The report itself is written by six doctors and academics, and looks at funding – both public and private – for so-called “neglected diseases” in the period 2015, compared with the previous nine years.

It finds that a total of $3.041bn (€2.85bn) was invested in neglected disease R&D.

That was a drop of 2.3% from 2014, and the third successive year of declining funding (figures for 2016 are not yet available.)

In fact, the overall spending has dropped every year bar one since 2009, according to the report, called the G-Finder 2016: Policy Cures Research.

Drilling down through the data, it finds that  ‘top tier’ neglected diseases suffered a fall in funding, largely due to a decrease in monies for HIV/AIDS.

Overall top tier funding fell 3.3%, with a 5.4% drop for HIV/AIDS, malaria down 3% and tuberculosis funding up, although only by 0.5%.

Funding for second tier neglected diseases also fell, by 5.9%. These are illnesses such as diarrhoea, dengue fever, hepatitis, meningitis and pneumonia.

The final, third-tier, diseases, such as leprosy, rheumatic fever and trachoma, each only receive less than 0.5% of global R&D funding, so their changes were more negligible.

(Due to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa which started in 2014, the G-Finder report treats Ebola funding separately in this instance.)

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Splitting the overall spend on R&D into public and private, with public sector falling – a decline seen since 2012 – although still providing an overall 63% of all revenue.

That comes mostly from high-income countries, mainly the US, the EU and the UK.

2015 saw the EU increase its funding by 20%, thus overtaking the UK. UK funding dropped $22m and US was down $44m.

No ‘back-slapping’

One of the NGOs which helped author the mammoth report, the Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung, welcomed the increase in EU funding.

“It is obviously good news that, in bucking the trends of other major donors, the EU is increasing the money it spends on life-saving research. The EU is clearly committed to research for diseases like HIV & AIDS and malaria, research which not only saves lives but also creates jobs and growth here in Europe, said Cecile Vernant, head of the DSW EU office.

“However, we should save the celebratory back-slapping for later. Overall, funding for global health research continues to decline, and looming political issues linked to Brexit and the new US administration could jeopardise any good work that has been done. That’s why the EU needs to continue to invest in, and step up its leadership of, global health innovation.”

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