My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for initiating this timely debate. Neglected tropical diseases form a group of 17 diseases, and as one who was born and brought up in Africa, I have seen the effects of some of them. They often affect the poorest of people in the hardest to reach areas. Because most of these diseases do not exist in more developed nations, it is easy to forget just how prevalent they are in other parts of the world. They cause death or weaken individuals, putting them at risk of being affected by other conditions. They damage the lives of more than 1 billion people across the globe and cost millions of pounds in healthcare and loss of production.
Large-scale diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis receive worldwide media attention and a great deal of research and funding, including commendable commitments from our own successive Governments. However, it must be acknowledged that in some parts of the world, the combined impact of the neglected diseases is comparable to that of the likes of malaria. We must come to terms with the scale of the task at hand. Some diseases are at risk of spreading further, so it is important that we do all we can to stop that happening.
As with so many of the world’s ills, the key to nipping the problem in the bud will be as much prevention as possible. It is now one year since the London declaration made a call to the world to work together in order to support and realise the World Health Organisation’s 2020 Roadmap on Neglected Tropical Diseases. I was pleased to read the WHO’s second report on NTDs, published earlier this month. It highlights what it describes as “unprecedented progress” made over the past two years. A regular supply of medicines and general worldwide strategic support has resulted in a vast improvement in the health of many people. There now seems to be a much closer focus on simplifying and fine-tuning the logistics of getting medication to as many people as possible in the most cost-effective ways. The outlook has shifted away from instigating the strategy to progressing it in a sustainable way, and the 2020 road map to control or eliminate at least 10 diseases by the end of the decade seems to be firmly in sight.
Today marks the launch of the London Centre of Neglected Tropical Disease Research, which is another huge milestone in taking forward further research and, more importantly, providing a bricks-and-mortar hub for continued global co-ordination. We should all be extremely proud that this global initiative has been based here in London from outset-from the coalition of organisations through to the declaration, and now to the establishment of this centre. The United Kingdom has a reputation for identifying and honouring its moral duty to assist others, and our leadership of this initiative continues that fine tradition. Just last year, our Government committed £195 million to support the control and elimination of neglected tropical diseases. In a wider context, this initiative serves as the perfect example of what can be achieved when people come together and collaborate for the greater good. Governments, scientists, pharmaceutical companies, NGOs, funding agencies and philanthropists have all provided expertise and resources that have resulted in measurable impacts being made in the affected communities.