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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has called for a global effort to cut the burden of neglected tropical diseases — and injected US$34 million into the endeavour.

The grant — announced last month (30 January) — will go the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, who will use it to raise awareness and unite disease-specific efforts.

They will also boost prevention and treatment of the seven most common neglected diseases: the blinding eye infection trachoma, and the worm infections onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis, trichuriasis, hookworm and ascariasis.

Key to the strategy will be negotiating donations or cheap prices on billions of tablets by bulk-buying, keeping prices lower than those negotiable by a single country. A cocktail of four drugs that target the seven diseases can then be used in mass treatment programmes.

Such strategies have already proven successful in the case of lymphatic filariasis, where a public-private partnership is providing drugs for 570 million people in 48 countries each year, compared to 25 million people in 12 countries nine years ago.

But the network has been criticised for concentrating on only seven diseases, ignoring more difficult to treat diseases such as sleeping sickness and Chagas disease.