Poverty-related diseases

Many diseases that particulary affect countries in the Global South, such as Ebola or malaria, cannot be adequately treated. This is often due to either a lack of effective drugs or due to an inadequate access to existing diagnostics and treatments.

New and effective medicines to treat poverty-related diseases have hardly been developed for decades as this is not of commercial interest – Ebola is just one example. © Thinkstock

Poor living conditions, insufficient access to adequate and healthy food, clean drinking water, medical care and education: This situation promotes the spread of infections known as poverty-related diseases. They include infections which can be cured or at least controlled in industrial countries such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or diarrhoea as well as neglected infectious diseases which mainly present a problem in poor tropical countries. Poor health systems and low hygiene standards contribute to their occurrence.

For some of these diseases there is no vaccine or proper treatment. Ebola is just one example. There may be treatments for other diseases but the available drugs and vaccines often have serious side effects or they cannot, or only insufficiently, be used in the special environment of developing countries. As a result, many infected people die or suffer from the after-effects for the rest of their lives. For decades, suitable medicines to treat these diseases have hardly been studied or developed as this is not of commercial interest. The vicious circle of poverty and illness can only be broken if all countries join forces in a global effort. Industrial nations bear special responsibility for this.

The problems have long been known

The G7 countries have always attached special importance to dealing with infectious diseases which mainly affect the poorest and have repeatedly made them an item on their agenda. The United Nations defined eight Millenium Development Goals in 2000, one being to reduce poverty by half by 2015. Although great efforts were made and visible progress achieved, not all of these goals have yet been attained. That is why we have made neglected poverty-related diseases a priority topic of the German G7 Presidency in 2015. A special focus is on research into these diseases alongside global health and development policy.

Assuming responsibility

The BMBF first presented its funding strategy for neglected and poverty-related diseases in 2011 and has continued to develop it further. The strategy is based on the following pillars:

Support for product development partnerships:

A major element of the funding strategy is support for product development partnerships or PDPs. PDPs are non-profit organizations which develop drugs, vaccines and diagnostic agents for neglected diseases. They are financed by public and private donors. The BMBF is currently funding four such PDPs. Funding focuses mainly on the development of products which reduce infant mortality and improve maternal health.

National support:

The BMBF is also strengthening the German research scene in the area of neglected and poverty-related diseases. In this context, it is particularly important to establish sustainable cooperation with partners from the affected countries. Combatting neglected and poverty-related diseases is therefore a top priority at the German Centre for Infection Research.  Four research groups are working together with partners in Africa to study new treatment and prevention methods for HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases like Ebola.

Research Networks for Health Innovations in Sub-Saharan Africa:

The BMBF is also increasingly promoting intensive cooperation between German and African researchers under its funding initiative to support "Research Networks for Health Innovations in Sub-Saharan Africa". These networks are expected to carry out excellent research on current health problems in African partner countries and to contribute to better academic training and systematic development of research capacities in Africa.

International research: Furthermore, the BMBF is involved in the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership or EDCTP. This is a research initiative of the European Commission which involves European and African countries. Since its establishment in 2003, the EDCTP has been systematically supporting the clinical development of drugs, vaccines and diagnostics against HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis and also against further poverty-related infectious diseases since 2014.