Rational Strategies with Heart A Reflection on Uniting to Combat NTDs: A Conversation on Progress

This is a guest post from Angelica Belli*

NTDs eventWhat drives us forward is a combination of heart and head.” –Bill Gates, April 2nd

 As a Human Rights and Humanitarian Action Masters student specializing in global health and African studies, having the opportunity to listen first hand to some of the actors that are so often subject of my studies was a particularly exciting experience, which further enhanced my eagerness to explore the field of NTDs.

Sitting in a semicircle in front of me were Bill Gates, Co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr Tim Evans, Director of Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank, Jamie Cooper-John, Chair of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Dr Onésine Ndayishimiye, National Director of the Neglected Tropical Disease Control Program in Burundi and Christopher A. Viehbacher, CEO of Sanofi.

Through their discussion, I was able to reflect upon the role of pharmaceutical companies in the effort to fight NTDs. While pharmaceutical companies need to make a profit to finance most of their activities, it is promising to see them acknowledging the need of those suffering from NTDs.

Companies like Sanofi are modifying their business plans to enable the disadvantaged to receive the NTD treatment they need at more affordable prices. Sanofi has made admirable efforts in this fight, committing itself for ten years to the provision of free drugs for neglected illnesses such as sleeping sickness.

In addition to Sanofi’s commitments, I was also pleased to hear that the French government reaffirmed their commitment to ending NTDs.  I hope that the French government will help people across the developing world gain access to treatments donated by Sanofi and other pharmaceutical companies.

Overall, the event was quite general, and I would have appreciated a deeper focus on the challenges faced rather than mainly on the achieved objectives. It was through the Q&A that some thought-provoking obstacles were raised.

Firstly, money is not the sole requisite. As Mr. Viehbacher and Mr. Gates pointed out, the main issue is no longer the availability of medicines, but access to patients. People in remote areas of the developing world are often not easily reachable due to poor infrastructure and weak health systems. It will be interesting to see what solutions are found to tackle this issue.

Secondly, even though the generosity of both public and private actors has led to improved health conditions for thousands, it raises the question as to whether donations are sustainable and if so, for how long. Local governments will have to step in eventually, empowering their people and making decent health care accessible. How these major global health actors will contribute to this necessary transformation is yet to be seen.

As long as there is a bit of heart complementing rational strategies, the empowerment of the most marginalized communities can be a reasonable expectation. As a global health student, I hope this will soon be the case.

To get involved in the fight against NTDs, visit www.end7.org.

 *Angelica Belli, Italian-British, grew up in Italy and attended university in the UK, graduating from Warwick University in Philosophy, Politics and Economics in 2013; current Human Rights and Humanitarian Action Master student at Sciences Po Paris School of International Affairs, with concentrations in Global Health and African Studies.

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