Decatur-based coalition gets $29.97 million boost from Gates Foundation

By Maria Saporta

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has done it again.

A coalition housed at the Decatur-based Task Force for Global Health has received a new five-year $29.97 million grant from the foundation, the nonprofit announced Friday morning.

The grant will fund the Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases (COR-NTD) – to support research and to continue efforts to control and eliminate five neglected tropical diseases.

Task Force for Global Health

A new $29.97-million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting research by a coalition of global health organizations to eliminate a disfiguring parasitic disease called lymphatic filariasis (LF) in Haiti and other countries. The Task Force for Global Health serves as the secretariat or hub for this coalition. Here a health worker in Haiti collects a blood sample to test for signs of LF infection. (Photo by Billy Weeks for the Task Force for Global Health)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation first gave $30 million for the effort in 2013. The funding sought to find solutions that addressed challenges faced by national programs in different countries fighting neglected tropical diseases.

The Decatur-based Task Force for Global Health has been serving as the secretariat or hub for the COR-NTD. The Task Force is the largest nonprofit in Georgia and it is has consistently been among the top five nonprofits in the country.

“Tremendous progress has been made in the past decade to end the suffering caused by NTDs,” said Patrick Lammie,  PhD, chief scientist for the Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center at the Task Force for Global Health. “This investment provides the NTD community with resources to address the remaining technical barriers to program success.”

In addition to COR-NTD, the Task Force is serving as the hub for seven major global health coalitions focused on disease control, elimination, and eradication.

The effort started coming together in 2012, when a wide range of stakeholders came together to endorse the London Declaration on NTDs. The coalition included pharmaceutical companies, non-governmental and governmental organizations.

A call to action catalyzed partners to meet the targets set out by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its 2020 Roadmap on NTDs.

WHO recommends that preventive treatment be delivered, usually once a year, to entire populations to protect people from five diseases – lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiasis, and trachoma.

Since the London Declaration, the number people requiring preventive treatment for NTDs has decreased by more than 300 million people, according to WHO’s latest data.

“Ministries of health drive the successful control and elimination of NTDs in their countries,” said Eric Ottesen, MD, director of the Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center. “Where they face barriers in getting treatments to people who need them or knowing when to stop treating – that’s where operational research comes in.”

The Gates Foundation initially donated a $30 million grant for COR-NTD five years ago – supporting efforts by USAID and aid from the United Kingdom to conduct research on the.

More than 180 studies led by more than 100 international partners in 55 countries have been supported, and the funds have been invested in new diagnostics and surveillance tools, along with protocols that have gained endorsement by WHO.

 “Our coalition and the NTD community have grown considerably in the last five years,” Lammie said. “I know that, together, we’ll be able to continue to solve the most persistent NTD problems and to enhance the health impact on these diseases of neglected populations.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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