BY THERESA OEI.
Photography by Janice Car for the CDC, and the NIAID.
The global health field is, by nature, interdisciplinary. It encompasses technological innovation, scientific research, medical care, policy making, and economic development. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Non-Profit Organizations (NPOs), however, typically address only one or two of these issues in an attempt to impact the overall improvement of health. We have become increasingly aware that this strategy is minimally effective; the root causes of global health issues are not singular in nature. Multidisciplinary problems require multidisciplinary solutions, yet these connections and collaborations are often difficult to achieve.
According to the World Health Organization, developing-world diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and NTDs affect over 1 billion people, yet there is a striking lack of attention devoted to such maladies. This is, in large part, due to the lack of financial incentives for pharmaceutical companies to research and create effective drugs. Even developed drugs are often shelved while companies shift their focus to high-demand products that garner greater fiduciary rewards. The biggest obstacle to progress in combating infectious disease isn’t a lack of technology or knowledge; rather, it is a misdirected focus.
In May 2013, the Japanese government created a public private partnership in global health with its pharmaceutical companies. The objective of this Global Health Innovative Technology Fund, financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is to treat infectious diseases in developing countries using Japanese technologies. This non-profit organization will facilitate collaboration by funding organizations and proposals with a focus on malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases. This new venture is unique in its approach to improving health in impoverished countries in that it addresses the multidisciplinary concern.
“[Our goal is] to catalyze new innovations from Japan, reaping the benefits of Japan’s drug and vaccine development capacities and expertise. We will do this for the world’s poorest of the poor and for the future growth of developing nations,” says Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, who leads the GHIT Fund, highlighting the redirection of Japan’s resources to focus on eradicating infectious disease.
Japan has long been at the forefront of technological development, making important contributions in the fight against smallpox and polio, but only 2.1% of Japanese funds allotted for Official Developmental Assistance go to health. With a thriving healthcare system and one of the highest life expectancies in the world, Japan has the capability to make significant contributions globally. Through the GHIT Fund, Japan hopes to increase their leadership in global health to benefit developing nations.
The GHIT began by funding and facilitating the TB Alliance, MMV (Medicines for Malaria Venture), and DNDi (Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative). Through GHIT support, these product development partnerships have access to Japanese pharmaceutical compound libraries and the financial resources to develop potentially effectual drugs.
At the 5th Tokyo International Conference on African Development, the GHIT Fund announced thirteen groundbreaking agreements: the TB Alliance will develop compounds against drug resistant TB strains, the MMV will seek new treatments that bypass similar obstacles, and the DNDi will find treatments for leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, and sleeping sickness.
The Global Health Investment Fund, an organization headed by Bill and Melinda Gates in partnership with Grand Challenges Canada, is primarily financial in nature and aims to increase collaboration between investors. They will finance late-stage clinical trials of high impact drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic tools specifically targeting child mortality.
Both of these projects are novel public private partnerships that fund collaborations between the private sector, NGOs, NPOs, research scientists, and government agencies. This innovative step forward in developing medicines and technologies will redirect resources and inspire creativity to help eradicate disease in the developing world.