This Group Helps Fight Devastating Diseases The World Ignores

The illnesses it combats affect the world's poorest people.

This article is part of HuffPost’s Project Zero campaign, a yearlong series on neglected tropical diseases and efforts to eliminate them.

This group is developing drugs to treat diseases that are too often left behind.

The Drugs For Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) develops treatments for neglected tropical diseases ― a group of at least 18 diseases, such as elephantiasis and river blindness, which affect more than 1 billion people but are largely unknown and under-resourced since they mainly impact poor communities. 

“They’re diseases that nobody has ever heard of, that are difficult to pronounce, that do not make headlines,” DNDi’s Rachel Cohen says in the video above. “Because they affect poor, marginalized and vulnerable people all over the world.” 

While some experts criticize pharmaceutical companies for not developing drugs to fight these diseases, others say more effort is needed from governments to prioritize research and development in health policies, reports The Guardian.

“These diseases affect very poor patients who do not have the economic power to buy the treatment,” DNDi’s Dr. Natalie Strub-Wourgaft says in the video. “Therefore there is no return on investment from the pharmaceutical industry.” 

A man in India displaying symptoms of lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis, a neglected tropical diseas
A man in India displaying symptoms of lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis, a neglected tropical disease that causes skin and tissue swelling.

DNDi uses a non-traditional, nonprofit model to develop new treatments for neglected diseases: By partnering with a variety of research institutes, companies and government groups, the organization is able to develop drugs for a fraction of what it would cost the pharmaceutical industry, according to the video.

The group is currently working on two new drugs to treat sleeping sickness, a neglected tropical disease that affects thousands in sub-Saharan Africa and that without treatment is considered fatal, according to the World Health Organization. Some symptoms of the disease include confusion, changes in behavior and an abnormal sleeping pattern. 

WHO has identified sleeping sickness as a disease that, with the right resources dedicated to it, could be eliminated worldwide by 2020. DNDi is hoping to do just that by raising $5 million this year to help bring its new treatments for sleeping sickness out of development and into the hands of patients who need them. (The Huffington Post is helping raise funds for DNDi’s effort.) 

Check out the video above to learn more about DNDi and its role in the fight against the neglected tropical diseases that affect the world’s poorest people.

To help eliminate sleeping sickness by 2020, donate here:

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HuffPost is advocating on behalf of sleeping sickness research by DNDi, a recipient of grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which also funds HuffPost’s Project Zero series. All content in this series is editorially independent, with no influence or input from the foundation.

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