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Miller-McCune Examines Impact Of Limited Access To Schistosomiasis Drug In Africa

Miller-McCune examines the limited access populations living in Africa have to the schistosomiasis drug praziquantel – “the only commercially available treatment for the disease.” Schistosomiasis “kills about 300,000 people and afflicts more than 200 million yearly with chronic and severe anemia, abdominal pain, diarrhea, infertility and bladder cancer,” the magazine writes, adding that the disease is “[e]specially prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa [where], by some estimates, nearly 800 million people are at risk of infection.”

“One to three tablets of praziquantel per person per year would dramatically improve the health of millions, [Peter] Hotez [of George Washington University] said, but it is too expensive for many African health ministries. The tablets cost 8 cents apiece,” the magazine adds. Hotez, along with several other researchers, wrote of the subject in a comment which appeared in the Lancet in August.

“In 2007, as part of a World Health Organization initiative, Merck KGaA [the manufacturer of the drug] pledged to donate 200 million tablets of praziquantel to Africa over the next 10 years, a donation valued by the company at $80 million. The company also said it was prepared to sell additional praziquantel at cost by scaling up production to 100 million tablets per year,” the magazine writes. However, Hotez and the co-authors of the Lancet comment “estimate that 1 billion tablets are needed to treat 400 million people annually or every other year. Typically, Hotez said, an entire village must get the drug because doctors do not have time to find out who is infected. … What’s needed is 10 to 20 times what is being donated now, he and his colleagues said. Without further donations from Merck, they said, $100 million will be needed every year to purchase praziquantel.”

The article describes ongoing efforts between the WHO and Merck KGaA to “to identify funding sources and sort out the complex logistics of distributing larger amounts of the drug to the parts of the world where it is most needed” and contrasts the investments made by the international community toward diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria to that of neglected tropical diseases. The piece also details the arguments made by Hotez for emerging economies as well as developed countries to invest more in neglected tropical diseases.

“The U.S., through the Agency for International Development, is providing $65 million for the control of neglected tropical diseases this year. President Barack Obama has requested $155 million for 2011, but, given budget constraints, the final allocation may be closer to $100 million,” the magazine writes (Burns, 10/3).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.