Innovating to Prevent Neglected Diseases

July 16, 2011 By Aminda

Last month, German health authorities identified the most likely source of the deadly E. coli bacteria that killed 22 people and made more than 2,000 ill across Europe.

With this development, came the release of the genomic data to the international community for ‘crowdsourcing’ alongside a site for people to download up-to-date analyses and a Twitter feed.

From that data, BGI and the Beijing Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology have developed a PCR-based diagnostic protocol to rapidly identify the outbreak strain. They have released a detailed protocol of the method and will provide the designed and synthesised primers free to any disease control and research agency worldwide.

This was an impressive example of global collaboration in disease control and illustrates the way global health is moving up the security agenda as an emerging issue. However, at least one writer believes this trend is too narrowly focused. Threats such as SARs and Swine Flu, highly infectious diseases that have crossed borders are seen as an immediate threat to states rather than issues of individual health security.

This is highlighted through the example of neglected diseases, which are not focused upon. According to the article, posted by The Atlantic Initiative, “neglected diseases, epidemics originating in developing countries, are only a worry to developed countries if disease reaches their country. This typically is not the case, as most remain confined to the developing countries affected by them.” While investments are made to prevent diseases such as Malaria, HIV/AIDs and Tuberculosis, there are some countries in which lesser-known tropical diseases are just as deadly.

The shift is changing, with organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) calling for neglected diseases to be “properly recognised as a global health priority for governments, international institutions and non-profit organisations.” However, there is still need and opportunity for today’s health care innovators to have an impact and contribute to saving lives.

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