February 17, 2012

Baroness Helene Hayman, Recent Lord Speaker of the House of Lords, United Kingdom Parliament, asks the UK government about its commitment to NTDs.

Below is an excerpt from the Baroness’ speech, which occurred on January 26, 2012:

View her speech.

View the meeting.

View the full transcript.

Asked By Baroness Hayman

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what international support they expect to receive for the new Department for International Development initiative to combat neglected tropical diseases announced on 21 January.

Baroness Northover : The Government have just announced a fivefold increase in support for neglected tropical diseases. This will help to protect more than 140 million people worldwide. It will strengthen the UK’s partnerships with the World Health Organisation, foundations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carter Center, other donors, pharmaceutical companies that are making drug donations, the endemic countries and non-governmental organisations.

Baroness Hayman : I welcome that very positive response from the Minister and the Government’s initiative in this field. I should declare a non-financial interest as a trustee of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, which works to develop new vaccines for diseases such as human hook worm and on mass drug administration programmes.

Does the Minister agree that diseases such as guinea worm, river blindness and schistosomiasis not only devastate the health, education and employment prospects of hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people but impede progress towards the achievement of the millennium development goals? Given that eradication is a real possibility and that intervention is so cost-effective, will the Government do all they can to ensure that generous donors, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other countries continue their efforts so that we can rid the world of these truly awful diseases?

Baroness Northover: The noble Baroness is absolutely right. I pay tribute to her and to her husband Martin Hayman for all that they have done in this field. When this announcement was made, my honourable friend Stephen O’Brien said:

“British support will take the neglected out of neglected tropical diseases”.

That is clearly critical. The noble Baroness is absolutely right: these are devastating diseases. The United Kingdom can help gear up what is happening elsewhere. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been remarkable in what it has managed to achieve, as has the Carter Center. The possible elimination of guinea worm by 2015 would be the second human disease that we have managed to eliminate.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: Does the Minister agree that the distribution of drugs and the setting up of treatment programmes present a huge challenge in many of the countries where these neglected tropical diseases are endemic, where health systems are already struggling to provide even the most basic services? Would she also agree that a further challenge comes from meeting requirements to regulate a range of what will be new medical products and to evaluate their safety, their efficacy and their quality in very particular conditions, for instance in Africa? Will the Minister assure the House that funding will be provided to support efforts to strengthen health systems and to build capacity to regulate the new drugs?

Baroness Northover: I can give the noble Baroness that assurance. She will know that there is a conference on Monday that will be attended by Bill Gates and many organisations, including the WHO. This will doubtless be part of what they will be considering.