At the launch of the World Health Organization's (WHO) first report on Neglected Tropical Diseases today, GSK announced a new five year commitment to expand the donation of its medicine albendazole to treat children at risk of intestinal worms, known as soil-transmitted helminths (STH).
Today's report confirms that intestinal worms cause more ill health in school-aged children than any other infection. STHs aggravate malnutrition and amplify rates of anaemia. In doing so, they impede children's physical growth and cognitive development, contributing significantly to school absenteeism. Lack of access to safe water and proper sanitation are the main factors in the persistence and prevalence of these diseases.
As part of control programmes, the WHO recommend annual treatment of all children aged 1-15 in STH endemic areas with single dose albendazole (or mebendazole). This 'de-worming' usually results in immediate improvements in child health and development. It also reduces absenteeism from school leading to improved academic achievement, and helps to reduce the burden on already overstretched health systems.
Under the new commitment announced today, GSK will increase production capacity of albendazole through new investments in its factories in South Africa and India. These investments will provide an additional 400 million treatments of albendazole per year. This represents a major new contribution to the UN's strategy to improve women's and children's health and, when combined with existing de-worming programmes, will enable the countries to scale-up their efforts to achieve universal coverage of school age children in Africa. Shipments of the new donations are expected to start in late 2011.
Andrew Witty, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline said: "The scale of what is required to prevent and treat neglected tropical diseases means it is critical we take an integrated approach. We commend the WHO's leadership to increase the visibility of these diseases to the global health community. There is growing momentum within industry, government and other partners to supply both medicines and funds. Our activity in this area is widespread, with ongoing research in both prevention and treatment. Today marks another significant commitment by GSK and I hope will help to make a major difference to the lives of people in those countries facing these diseases."
Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO said: "This pledge extends a long-term collaboration between WHO and GSK in tackling diseases that are perpetuated by poverty and keep people in poverty, especially in Africa. Albendazole is a safe, effective, and easy to administer treatment for children infected with soil-transmitted helminthiases, bringing rapid results with long-term benefits. The GSK donation means that many millions more will benefit as part of a strategy that can break the cycle of poverty, ill health, poor school performance, and lost productivity."
The new commitment to supply 400 million tablets of albendazole per year for the treatment of intestinal worms is in addition to GSK's ongoing commitment to supply the WHO with 600 million tablets of albendazole per year for use in the Global Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filiariasis (GAELF), a chronic disease that causes debilitating damage to the lymphatic system, kidneys, arms, legs and genitals.
This brings GSK's total donation to the WHO to 1 billion tablets of albendazole per year.