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Diseases with higher burden in Asia and Africa lack research funding: Data

Diseases with higher burden in Asia and Africa lack research funding: Data

Close to 677 million people in India required treatment against tropical diseases such as dengue, chikungunya, and snakebite envenoming in 2021, yet global research about these ailments continues to be heavily underfunded compared to illnesses such as HIV/AIDS. These diseases are termed as Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) by the World Health Organization (WHO).

NTDs primarily affect populations in tropical and subtropical regions, and they have historically received less attention and fewer resources. The affected populations are typically among the poorest in the world. These diseases contribute to a cycle of poverty, as they cause long-term disability, social stigma, and economic burden, which in turn hinders economic development and attracts less commercial investment in treatments and research. They also lead to other health problems such as anaemia, blindness, chronic pain, infertility and disfigurement.

Chart 1 | The chart shows the annual research and development funding for NTDs in 2022 ($, adjusted for inflation). Research and development for NTDs (blue) have been historically underfunded compared to diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. 

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The COVID-19 pandemic received a total research funding of $4.22 billion in 2022. HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria received funding in the range of $600 million to $1.35 billion that year. Whereas, diseases such as dengue, chikungunya, leprosy and snakebite envenoming received funding in the range of $10 million to $80 million.

Map 2 | The map shows the estimated number of people requiring treatment against NTDs in 2021. 

With 677 million people requiring treatments, India tops the charts followed by Nigeria with 139 million, Indonesia with 79 million, Ethiopia with 71 million and Bangladesh with 56 million. Congo, Philippines, Tanzania, Uganda and Pakistan are the other nations in the top ten list. The geographic spread clearly shows that most of the disease burden in the case of NTDs is shouldered by countries in Asia and Africa. Mexico is the only non-Asian, non-African country with a higher share of burden featuring high (14th) on the list. Deaths due to NTDs in Europe, Oceania and North America (except Mexico) are few and far between.

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India tops the charts in terms of dengue deaths with 17,500 such fatalities recorded in 2019. India also tops the charts in leprosy cases with over one lakh cases in 2022. With over 50,000 deaths due to venomous snakes in 2019, the mortality in India is much higher than the distant second — Pakistan (2,000 fatalities).

Chart 3 | The chart shows the technologies on which the global research and development funding for infectious diseases was spent. 

Most of the global research funding was focused on finding vaccines to counter COVID-19. A sharp increase in vaccine funding to the tune of $5.2 billion was recorded in 2020. In 2022, research funding dropped across all technologies including vaccines. Research money for new drugs, basic research, biologicals and diagnostic platforms declined in 2022.

A lot can be done to alleviate the health burden caused by NTDs. Many can be managed with inexpensive existing interventions or new technologies developed through research. However, these diseases still suffer from a lack of adequate funding, research and development, and global attention. The success of certain initiatives demonstrates what can be achieved with deliberate effort. Examples include the near-eradication of Guinea worm disease and the elimination of river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, and trachoma in many countries.

Also read:India’s health research is not aligned with its disease burden | Data

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