The FINANCIAL — Competition for multi-million pound grants to tackle debilitating parasitic diseases in the developing world means that serious concerns about whether current drug programmes actually work are being side-lined says Professor Tim Allen in a letter published in The Lancet, according to The London School of Economics.
Professor Allen, Professor in Development Anthropology, and Dr Melissa Parker, Director of CRIMA at Brunel University, write that mass drug administration programmes – such as those supported by the UK Government – are often designed without taking into account local political, economic and social issues. They explain that sending vital drugs for neglected tropical diseases, such as bilharzia and elephantiasis, to countries that need them, does not necessarily mean that affected communities in Africa will actually be treated.
Their research in East Africa shows that current systems of distribution may work quite well in one village, but largely fail in the next. Re-infection of those treated is very likely.
Communicating with communities about the reasons for the mass drug programmes has not been made a priority. This allows rumours and local conspiracy theories which question the real purposes of free drug administration to flourish in some locations.
In 2008 there were protests in Tanzania by parents who were convinced that tablets that were being given out in schools for bilharzia had been sent to poison their children.
Allen and Parker point out that large internationally funded drug distribution programmes can weaken already over-stretched health-care systems.
Professor Allen and Dr Parker also draw attention to medical research which indicates that the long term effects of mass treatment and the combinations of medication to treat multiple infections require much better surveillance and monitoring, particularly when given to already weak and malnourished people.
On January 21 2012 the UK Department for International Development announced that it was boosting its support to £245 million, a five-fold increase, for programmes to combat neglected tropical diseases.
Around 800 million people suffer from neglected tropical diseases. These include elephantiasis which causes extreme swelling of the limbs or other parts of the body and bilharzia which can result in life-threatening damage to the urinary system and liver and bladder and bowel cancers.
LSE on 30 january has launched an online public lecture by Professor Allen called 'Parasites – enemy of the poor' where he discusses these issues and shows the devastating impact these diseases can have on people.