European Parliamentarians Gather in Spain to Support New Tools for Neglected Disease

May 26, 2010

Members of Parliament from Spain and other European nations, along with international activists, researchers and NGOs met at the Spanish Congress to discuss the importance of parliamentary support for research and development (R&D) of new health products to address challenges in global health. Attendees emphasized the need for new tools to improve the global response to pandemics such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. In her opening address, the Chair of the Spanish Congress’s Committee on International Cooperation for Development, Rosa Delia Blanco, insisted that "the [economic] crisis must not stop the R&D for global health”.

Research efforts must be incorporated in to foreign aid policies for economic development in poor countries. Dutch Parliamentarian, Kathleen Ferrier, emphasized, “as representatives of the people we cannot let people die every day, every hour and every minute, from [neglected] diseases." Dr. Gaudensia Mutua, of the Kenya AIDS Vaccine Initiative (KAVI) and TB/HIV activist Lucy Chesire described the role R&D can and should play in combating neglected disease. Both speakers agreed on the need to integrate all essential actors, including donors, researchers, and patient groups in the development of products that save the lives of millions of people.

"Inadequate tools to fight diseases such as TB have robbed many communities of their most basic human right – health, and have eliminated their potential to become self-sufficient," Ms. Chesire said as she shared the inspirational story of her personal battle with HIV/TB.

Dr. Mutua reinforced the importance of high burden countries articulating the need for this work and building the capacity to support it, stating “In this ongoing work to develop new tools, developing countries have a fundamental role in creating a favorable environment for R&D, reinforcing the structural capacity and allowing involvement for the future beneficiaries of new products.”

Product Development Partnerships (PDPs) were touted as examples of efficient methods of developing and introducing these critically-needed new products into the field. It was noted that despite the current economic crisis, political support for PDPs across Europe, including in Spain, remains strong. Director of the Centre for Research in International Health at the University of Barcelona Hospital, Dr. Pedro Alonso, recalled "innovation is needed to cover the failures of the market... and the PDP model is a breakthrough in that respect, but they rely heavily on philanthropy to carry out their research.” The implication to that statement is that donor governments need step up and fund these organizations if they are truly committed to empowering the world’s poor by promoting strategies to promote sustainable advances in global health.

This event demonstrated a consensus amongst the participants of the need to advocate for R&D in global health in their own national parliaments. Minister Blanco also announced that the Spanish Commission for International Cooperation for Development will consider a motion recognizing the key outcomes of the day’s discussion in the Spanish Congress. Among these outcomes, is a call to support, promote and enact policies that facilitate R&D for new tools and interventions for vulnerable populations, specifically those designed to combat HIV / AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other neglected diseases threatening the lives of millions of men, women and children.