The first meeting of the Countdown research consortium was held this week with the LSTM and its international partners outlining a plan to evaluate how drugs for neglected tropical are provided to patients in rural Africa.
Russell Stothard from the LSTM told us distributing donated meds like Mectizan (ivermectin) or Cesol (praziquantel) on the ground is the main challenge, explaining that at present it is usually the responsibility of community drug distributors (CDDs) or school teachers.
“These communities and schools are often long distances away from nearest health outposts. In reality, treatments taken this way can be considered the most peripheral point in the junction between the formal health system and the communities themselves.”
“It is here, for example, that afflicted communities suffer most from marginalisation and low access to health care” he said.
From donor to school
To address this, the consortium is trying to encourage greater harmonisation Stothard said, suggesting this should encompass everything from “the source of international donation to in-country receipt at the national level”
He cited shipping as an example, explaining that although transporting drugs by sea is cheaper it is “slower and can cause downstream timetabling issues when drug distribution campaigns take place.”
“We will closely follow the drug distribution chain and then at the peripheral level where we will engage with CDDs and School teachers to target groups which are presently overlooked, such as pre-school-age children, out-of-school children, adults who live in high risk zones.”
He added that group includes “pregnant women and who would benefit from treatment but are presently largely overlooked. Addressing equity in terms of gender and age is something we wish to improve.”
Neglected diseases became somewhat less neglected in 2012 when the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank, various Governments and 13 drugmakers committed to eliminating 10 such illnesses by 2020.
The drug industry’s role has been to establish donation programmes and provide products free of charge and, according to Stothard, the contributions by firms like Merck & Co, GSK and Johnson & Johnson have been significant.
“The amount of drugs donated tallies to some billion treatments made available to those with worm-related diseases in Africa. The challenge is to ensure that these medicines are not wasted and hit target patients so that they benefit. Simply put it is about access to medications, something we take for granted in Europe.”
The success of the Countdown consortium will be measured in two ways according to Stothard, “reaching those who have never received treatment before as well as better streamlining costs within the health system.”