UK plans to 'wipe out' tropical diseases worldwide with £450m funding plan

Funding will help eliminate Guinea worm disease and elephantiasis.

Rare Disease Day: What you need to knowIBTimesUK/Wochit

The UK will commit £450m ($563.5m) towards tackling the world's most infectious tropical diseases, such as Guinea worm disease and elephantiasis.

The move will aid research into new cures and treatments for neglected diseases, which "belong to the last century", according to international development secretary Priti Patel.

"These diseases belong to the last century," she said. "They cause unimaginable suffering and pain to some of the world's poorest people, forcing them into a deeper cycle of poverty with no way out. Yet they are treatable."

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The new investment will be a boost to the continuing global partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, run by tech multi-billionaire Bill Gates, who has pledged to help fight neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

Gates said he was "proud" to be in co-operation with UK aid to combat NTDs and was optimistic about future developments.

"UK aid and Britain's world-leading research institutions are playing a major role in protecting the world's poorest people from NTDs and enabling them to live healthier, more prosperous lives.

"With our foundation, I am proud to partner with the UK on global health and look forward to sharing more specifics about how we will further our commitment in the fight against NTDs this week at the summit in Geneva."

Guinea worm disease is caused by a parasite and infects a host through drinking dirty water that is infected with larvae.

Symptoms of Guinea worm can remain hidden for up to a year before skin breaks out and blisters, which burst, releasing more larvae and continuing the cycle of infection. As the parasites migrate through tissue they cause extreme pain – including a burning sensation in joints.

Meanwhile, elephantiasis, which goes by the name of lymphatic filariasis, also causes parasites to enter the body, but is transmitted by mosquitoes. The parasites are much smaller and can affect the human lymph system, which helps maintain a fluid balance. A swelling can follow and cause the particular body part to weigh as much as the rest of the body.

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Funding from the UK will be split up to support the fight on disease around the world: £205m will assist communities suffering from such diseases, while £88m will be used to focus on the drug developments and new treatments.

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