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Latest releases: 17 December 2003

Urgent need for new drugs in sub Saharan Africa, says WMA President

The urgent need to develop new drugs to fight infectious diseases in sub Saharan Africa has been highlighted by Dr James Appleyard, President of the World Medical Association.

Addressing the Ugandan Medical Association's Annual Scientific Meeting on Infectious Diseases in Kabale, Dr Appleyard warned that the increasing gap in the health needs of the rich and poor nations was like a ticking time bomb.

Yet despite the urgent need for new medicines, less than 20 drugs had been developed for tropical diseases in the last 25 years or so, all with government support. This compared with 1,377 new drugs for the developed world, where the burden of disease was far less.

Dr Appleyard said that only by developing practical partnerships between governments, industry, universities and non governmental organisations, as happened in the SARS outbreak earlier this year, would this gross distortion of world priorities be corrected.

He said that children had to bear the overwhelming burden of infectious diseases in poor countries. They were imprisoned in a poverty trap and so prevented from achieving their full potential of physical, mental and economic growth.

"It is totally unacceptable that world leaders should stand idly by while nearly one third of the children under five in Sierra Leone die each year. Yet children born in Sweden are top of the UNICEF list with only three children dying each year per thousand births - a difference of one hundred fold."

"The World Bank has stated that if infectious disease could be controlled, the majority of this health divide could be bridged."

He said that Uganda had made progress over the last ten years. An extra 50,000 children under the age of five were surviving each year compared to ten years ago. But much more still needed to be done to prevent and control the common infectious illnesses that were responsible for those deaths in children - diseases such as "diarrhoea", measles and malaria, all of which were treatable.

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