The funding that the world invests in tackling 33 of the deadliest diseases is at its highest level since records began 11 years ago.
Over $3.5 billion (about £2.8 billion) was spent on detecting, treating, and preventing neglected diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS in 2017, according to a report published this month. That marks a 7% funding increase compared to 2016.
“This was the largest increase in both relative and absolute terms since 2008, and the first time since 2009 that there has been two consecutive years of growth in global funding for neglected diseases R&D,” reads the “G-Finder” report, which is published every year by an Australian nonprofit called Policy Cures Research on behalf of the Gates Foundation.
The report’s lead author, Dr. Nick Chapman, added: “This is the first time funding has increased two years in a row… It’s a positive development, and really quite unprecedented.”
Of all the neglected diseases featured in the report, HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria between them received more then two-thirds of the overall global investment.
As we head into a year that will be crucial for global health investment, however, there is a lot more work to do and a lot more funders who need to be contributing — with the report noting that funding still relies too much on a few big investors.
The US and the UK are the biggest investors in global health, according to the report — with the US providing 39% of the total through its National Institutes of Health, reported the BBC.
Meanwhile, the UK, the European Commission, Germany, and India are all noted as having increased their investment.
In 2017 the UK, for example, tripled its funding for combatting malaria — one of the deadliest diseases in the world, killing some 435,000 people in 2017, with an increase in reported cases putting the figure at 219 million, reported the Telegraph.
“These diseases are devastating and disproportionately affect the world’s poor and most vulnerable,” said Penny Mordaunt, the UK’s international development secretary.
“Tackling them is essential to DfID’s core mission to end global poverty,” she added. “I’m proud DfID is a world leader in supporting cutting-edge research and the development to help put this suffering to an end.”
She described how health research is also “a win” for Britain, with overall health spending increasing by 89% — about £67 million — between 2016 and 2017. It means that the UK contributes about £144 million a year to research and development against these diseases.
“An innovative DfID-funded diagnostic test for tuberculosis is currently in use in the NHS and by tackling the spread of diseases we can prevent them from one day coming to our shores,” she said.
While most of the funding comes from DfID, almost half was from a new stream of funding from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), according to the BBC.
“The UK increase has been fantastic to see,” said Anna Doubell, Policy Cures Research’s director of research. “Brexit raises a big question about what might change — we will only find out in time.”
Meanwhile, India also increased its funding by 38%, and Germany by 39%.
“The increase in Indian government investment helped drive an overall increase in public funding from low- and middle-income (LMIC) countries, marking the third consecutive year of growth and the second-largest LMIC public investment on record (behind only 2013),” noted the report.
While the $3.5 billion investment shows significant progress, it’s not yet near enough the $8 billion annual target.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), high-income countries should be spending at least 0.01% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on research around neglected disease.
But no one is yet hitting that target. The United States is closest, followed by the UK, but no other country is even half way towards hitting the guideline spend laid out by the WHO.
“While the targets are to some extent aspirational, we know that it is not enough,” added Chapman. “And there is clearly scope among other funders, beyond the US and the UK, to increase their investment, which is both practical and realistic.”
“There needs to be stable and sustainable long-term funding,” he added.