Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

Health

Bill Gates Credits Pharma Companies With Protecting the World from Tropical Disease

The fight against tropical diseases is no easy task.

Each year, 1 billion people are treated for diseases like river blindness, guinea worm, and trachoma — unglamorous illnesses that are endemic to many parts of the world, leave people disabled and suffering, and lack the attention that more high-profile disease targets get from world health groups.

But Bill Gates said this week that thanks to increasing efforts over the past five years by pharmaceutical companies, the World Health Organization, and groups like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the battle is slowly being won.

Read More: After Big Budget Cuts, Bill Gates Meets With Donald Trump to Discuss Foreign Aid

There were only 25 cases of guinea worm last year, a remarkable drop from previous levels, though the unrest in South Sudan may lead the disease to reemerge there, he said in an interview with the BBC.

Sleeping sickness, a parasitic infection that can kill, had only 3,000 victims last year.

"It's a hard area to explain because it's not just one disease,” Gates said.” And there is a certain complexity to the individual diseases.”

Read More: Bill Gates Wants to Tax Robots So We Can All Have Better Lives

Following a strategic meeting in London in 2012, a plan was conceived to distribute tablets to fight 10 neglected illnesses that wreak havoc on tropical populations.

Since then, remarkable progress has been made.

“None of these diseases are getting worse,” he said. “They are less neglected than they used to be. We're behind on some of the very ambitious goals which were set in London for 2020 - but the burden from all these diseases is getting better."

Read More: Bill Gates Is Making a $1 Billion Bet on Clean Energy

Gates was in Geneva, Switzerland, to celebrate another $812 million in funding from governments, pharmaceutical companies, and charities to continue distributing the disease-fighting tablets. He said the relationships with the drug companies has been “great” and reached “a phenomenal scale,” according to the BBC.

"Anyone who gets to see these very tough diseases, and to see the benefit from these initiatives, would be absolutely convinced."

He also praised the United Kingdom as a critical donor to the cause, and said he was disappointed in US President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to foreign aid, though he said he hoped Congress would keep some foreign aid in place during its budget process.

"I think I was able to get across the idea that global health matters even in an 'America First' framework,” Gates said. "The President has proved willing to be pragmatic since he's been in office - so continued dialogue about development aid will be important."