By Mary Hearty
Global leaders have made a commitment of more than US$ 4 billion to accelerate progress against malaria and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) at the first-ever joint malaria and NTDs summit in Kigali, Rwanda.
The commitment which included funding from governments, international organizations, philanthropists, and private sector, was made in response to the urgent threat of a resurgence in malaria and NTDs made worse by a plateauing of funding, biological challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic, despite many years of progress.
Countries affected the most by Malaria and NTDs committed over US$ 2.2 billion in domestic resources towards ending these diseases.
This was in the context of both the Kigali Declaration for NTDs that was launched during the summit, and a signal of further enhanced domestic resource commitments of at least US$ 18 billion for malaria response at the forthcoming Global Fund’s seventh replenishment conference in September.
“With endemic countries demonstrating their leadership and ownership in the fight against malaria and NTDs, now is the time for international solidarity to ensure we all work together across all partners and levels to meet the ambitious targets,” Paul Kagame, Rwandan President said.
He noted that ensuring that all African countries mobilize the domestic financial resources required for quality healthcare, is a priority for the African Union, and their partners. “If there is one thing the pandemic has taught us, it is that together, through coordinated and collaborative action, we can achieve much more,” Kagame said.
Private sector organizations made a range of commitments including increased research funding, enhancing local manufacturing capacity including from BioNTech to produce new generation vaccines locally leveraging mRNA technology, support for regional initiatives (such as GoodbyeMalaria) as well as new safe, accessible diagnostics for NTDs such as snakebite envenoming and more than 18 billion tablets were donated to NTDs by nine pharmaceutical companies.
Pfizer for instance, made a ground-breaking commitment to extend its antibiotic donation program through 2030, enabling continued trachoma elimination programs in more than 19 countries globally.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) reaffirmed its commitment to donate albendazole until elimination of lymphatic filariasis, extend its soil transmitted helminths (STH) donation to include pre-school children and include a third disease on the WHO’s 2030 NTDs Roadmap, echinococcosis.
GSK also committed to invest £1 billion in research and development (R&D) over the next decade to get ahead of high burden infectious diseases that disproportionately impact low and middle income countries (LMICs) to ensure that no one is left behind.
Novartis is investing USD 250 million to advance R&D into new treatments to combat NTDs and malaria, including USD 100 million to advance R&D of its NTD programme, focusing on novel drug candidates for four diseases, and USD 150 million for next generation antimalarials.
The Wellcome Trust committed to delivering £80 million worth of funding towards research on snakebite envenoming treatment.
Biopharmaceutical company BioNTech announced plans to deliver a highly effective vaccine based on its proprietary mRNA technology for the prevention of malaria and disease-associated mortality, with the clinical trial for the first malaria vaccine candidates to start by the end of 2022.
Further support for malaria and NTDs programs was also delivered by philanthropic foundations and funds, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Melinda French Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, highlighted the remarkable progress Africans and their partners have made against preventable infectious diseases.
“Over the past two decades, it has been inspiring to see the way leaders have come together to combat malaria and neglected tropical diseases,” said French Gates.
“African government officials, health workers, advocates, and scientists have contributed to significant reductions in death and other impacts these diseases have on communities. Tremendous leadership and collaboration with multilateral organizations, donor countries, and pharmaceutical companies are saving lives and helping people live to their fullest potential.”
Progress against malaria and NTDs has stalled in recent years and even reversed in some countries due to a plateauing of funding, rapidly increasing population and widespread insecticide resistance alongside the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
This has disrupted health programs including essential services and supply chains that have put further strain on the fight against malaria.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa urged governments to harmonize delivery platforms for addressing both malaria and NTDs.
She said we can find ways to combine the delivery of treatment for malaria and preventive chemotherapy for NTDs through community healthcare workers, and local leaders.
“If we can find ways for reporting all that we have achieved, with the money given by different partners, we can get more value for the money that is invested. We can speed up our coverage and the impact as well.”
This historic malaria and NTDs summit was attended by world leaders including His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, His Excellency Mokgweetsi Masisi, President of the Republic of Botswana, His Excellency Andrew Holness, Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Honourable Dr Philip Isdor Mpango, Vice President of the United Republic of Tanzania, His Excellency Sheikh Shakhboot bin Nahyan Al Nahyan, Minister of State, UAE and the Dr Osagie Ehanire, the Honourable Minister of Health, Federal Republic of Nigeria and took place alongside the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.