By Maria Saporta

The Decatur-based Task Force for Global Health has received a five-year $28.8 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to establish a support center for neglected tropical diseases.

The grant will enable the newly-established Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center to collaborate with other partners around the world to address gaps in research. The center will coordinate with partners to implement the research agenda for these diseases, while ensuring the quick translation of new solutions into the program policy.

The Gates grant will be officially announced on Tuesday, Feb. 5.

In 2012, the Gates Foundation committed to the goals of the London Declaration, a pledge to end suffering due to neglected tropical diseases. The pledge was signed by nongovernmental organizations involved in research and implementation, pharmaceutical companies, bilateral and international donor agencies and the countries where people are suffering from those diseases.

The London Declaration complements the plan by the World Health Organization to control or eliminate most of the targeted diseases by the year 2020. The tropical diseases threaten the lives and well-being of millions of people in some of the poorest communities in the world.

The grant enables The Task Force to tackle the shared challenges facing Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) programs everywhere. Those challenges prevent programs from scaling up to a point of sustaining the reduction of the diseases. By removing those challenges, it will help achieve the goals of controling and eliminating those diseases.

“This support for operational research for NTDs could not be timelier,” said Dr. Lorenzo Savioli, director of the Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases for the World Health Organization. He said it coincides with “the historic vote” that took place on Jan. 28 by WHO’s executive board to have a comprehensive resolution for all 17 neglected tropical diseases. on 28 January 2013 by WHO’s executive board to recommend to its World Health Assembly in May that it adopt a comprehensive resolution for all 17 neglected tropical diseases.

“We are convinced the funding will help strengthen operational research, increase efficiencies and cost-effectiveness, and accelerate interventions towards achieving the targets set by the World Health Assembly, the WHO Roadmap, and the London Declaration,” Dr, Savioli said.

The principal investigator on the Gates grant will be Dr. Patrick Lammie, senior scientist in the Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria for the Center for Global Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

He will be joined by an established team at the Task Force for Global Health led by Dr. Eric Ottesen, a veteran in international circles; and Dr. Dominique Kyelem, a native of Burkina Faso.

Both have been leaders in combating lymphatic filariasis (also known as elephantiasis).

“The investment of research funding by the Gates Foundation provides the NTD community with an unparalleled opportunity to work together to address critical challenges facing NTD elimination programs,” Dr. Lammie said. “This grant, and the resulting research priorities, will have a significant impact on advancing research and development through new partnerships and enhanced collaboration at national and international levels. We are very excited to have this opportunity to work with the NTD community in an innovative and meaningful way in order to ensure we have the research necessary to achieve control and elimination goals.”

Dr. Kyelem also was enthusiastic about supporting the global efforts against these diseases.

“In Africa, we are plagued by disabling elephantiasis, river blindness, schistosomiasis, intestinal parasites, and blinding trachoma,” Dr. Kyelem said. “This grant will support the research needed by program managers in my country and many others to eliminate and control these dreaded diseases.”

The Gates Foundation reinforces the significance of the Task Force for Global Health, a 28-year-old organization that has collaborated with governments, nonprofits and businesses to improve global health.

““The real role of the Task Force is to convene all the researchers,” said Mark Rosenberg, president and CEO of the Task Force for Global Health, about the Gates grant.

Recently, the Task Force has become recognized as one of the top five nonprofits in the United States.

Maria Saporta, executive editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state. From 2008 to 2020, she wrote weekly columns...

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