New EU programme will support 'global health R&D'

April 2014 is set to be an important month for global health and the fight against poverty-related and neglected diseases, writes Vicky Ford.

By Vicky Ford

14 Apr 2014

World health day dedicated to vector-borne diseases last week, and world malaria day on 25 April, are putting the spotlight on the devastating impact that HIV, Aids, malaria, tuberculosis, and other neglected diseases are having on the world's population, in particular on women and children.

At the European parliament's plenary session this week, I hope to see the endorsement of our agreement on the second phase of the European and developing countries clinical trials partnership programme (EDCTP2), an important pillar in the EU's contribution to these challenges.

Less than 18 months from the deadline of the millennium development goals, the need for continuing international momentum on global health has never been clearer. The socioeconomic impact of poverty-related and neglected diseases on people living in the world's poorest countries remains staggering.

More than one billion people - of which an estimated 400 million are children - around the world are suffering from these diseases. Malaria alone accounted for approximately 627,000 deaths according to latest WHO figures, most of them children under five years, with more than 200 million people living with the disease. These diseases have a wider impact on the lives and health of sufferers and their local communities.

This is no time for complacency for the health of EU citizens either. During my time as rapporteur I have learnt how tuberculosis, for example, is becoming more resistant to traditional antibiotics and cases are on the increase across the EU. Furthermore, climate change has increased the risk of diseases like dengue fever which has already appeared in various cases in Europe. Collaborative research to tackle these diseases is critical. As a British MEP I was pleased to hear from many UK scientists working in this area of research.

Thanks to a concerted international effort in the last decade, progress is being made. Malaria rates, for example, have fallen by 42 per cent globally since 2000, and in Africa by 49 per cent. What we need now, to build on this momentum, is a policy environment that stimulates and accelerates the development of safe, affordable, innovative and accessible medical interventions tailored to the needs of those worst affected by poverty-related and neglected diseases.

"The European Union is a leader in the field of global health research and development"

The original EDCTP programme established in 2003 was set up for precisely this reason, seeking to develop new responses to HIV, Aids, malaria and tuberculosis. As parliament's rapporteur for the EDCTP2 programme, I have sought to establish a framework that can build on the successes of the first phase and broaden the disease scope to ensure that we are addressing a wider range of challenges faced in the global health field.

As the successor to this landmark programme, EDCTP2 will enhance the EU's contribution to supporting global health R&D in a number of ways. Fundamentally, it will expand the horizons of the programme beyond its original disease focus to cover all poverty-related and neglected diseases prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. EDCTP2 will seek to increase the number of new and innovative interventions with the objective of delivering a new medical intervention within 10 years. It will seek to strengthen the connections between the European and sub-Saharan global health research communities - with a focus on building the capacity of research communities in Africa to undertake their own research and clinical trials. This will enable these countries to build up their expertise and target their interventions to the areas that concern them the most.

By linking EDCTP2 into the EU's overarching research agenda - Horizon 2020 - and the EU's development objectives, it will streamline and make more efficient the EU's primary goal: finding prevention tools, diagnostics, treatments and successful medical interventions. Finally, it will increase participation and improve access to research results, by ensuring the wide dissemination of EDCTP2's results, will be a crucial cornerstone of the programme over the next 10 years.

The European Union is a leader in the field of global health research and development. I am proud as rapporteur to say that, the proposed EDCTP2 budget has been defended amid times of austerity and that through the EDCTP2 programme, we are harnessing this excellence to help drive forward the development of innovative, accessible and affordable global health solutions for over one billion people currently suffering through the heavy economic, social and health burdens associated with poverty-related and neglected diseases.


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