Diagnosis, disease and poverty May04


Every single day, 20,000 people die from AIDS, 20,000 from Malaria and 10,000 from Tuberculosis (TB). More people die from these diseases than in any war or from any natural disaster. Although it takes only £2.50 per person to treat Malaria, £5 to treat TB and £100 to treat and manage AIDS, we do so little to prevent the deaths of millions of our fellow beings. Their despair, misery, suffering and deaths are not portrayed on our television screens. The loss of their children, their workforce and the devastation of their livelihood do not register in our minds. They are poor and they feel betrayed.


What are we doing to help them?


In 2000, I was the European Parliament’s Rapporteur for “Combating communicable diseases: HIV/AIDS, Malaria and TB”. In this Report, I outlined a global strategy to fight these diseases specifying the financial commitment required as well as the need for tiered pricing for poor countries to make medication affordable. I indicated the importance of distinctive packaging for such preferentially lower priced medication to ensure supply to patients in poor countries and prevent re-exportation to western countries. I emphasised the need for training of medical personnel for diagnosis, treatment and after-care as well as investment in research to develop vaccines for prevention of these diseases.


My Report was well received by the European Parliament, the EU, the western countries, UN, WHO, UNAIDS, UNICEF and established charitable foundations like the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. It was recognised, as I had proposed, that a Global Fund would be needed to launch a campaign to help fight these diseases worldwide. Mr. Kofi Anan, the UN Secretary General, initiated the Global Fund supported by many countries and international health agencies like the Red Cross, Medicins Sans Frontieres and Oxfam.


How can we ensure efficient use of financial and human resources to fight these diseases?


At present, there is no scientific data for each developing country to indicate the number of people, including their location, who suffer from these diseases. Furthermore, there is no data to indicate how many may be carriers of the HIV virus and unknowingly infecting others. Most of the poor live in rural areas without access to clinics with diagnostic facility. Even if they begin to suffer from symptoms, they are financially unable to travel to the capital city or the nearest large town where they could be identified, tested and treated.


Therefore, neither the donor nor the recipient developing country have an accurate means to assess the number of people infected and where they live. This does not allow anyone to budget, secure medication, train medical personnel and target the sick and those who are carriers of these killer diseases. Both prevention and treatment cannot be efficiently managed without a ‘disease infection area’  (DIA) map on a regional basis for each developing country.


Disease Infection Area (DIA) maps can be established by having mobile diagnostic laboratories (MDL) equipped with diagnostic testing equipment to test for the three diseases. These MDLs need to be manned with medical personnel and appropriate IT equipment to record patient data, including the geographic location. The MDLs can identify the patient, test, advise and feed its data to a central national and international database. This database will enable to compile DIA maps for each developing country. Such maps would inform and allow the donors and recipient governments to target/treat the patients and carriers most effectively.


The DIA maps for each developing country and their periodic reviews would be of interest to pharmaceutical manufacturers, research institutions and world agencies. Such information could raise substantial funds that could help in financing the work of MDLs.  


Whilst every human life is precious, death from violence – man killing man – is news. We find the acts of terror and of suicide bombers horrific. Such killings attract immediate response from major western nations but death from curable diseases is neither reported nor perceived as equally shocking and unacceptable. We must help the poor – their lives should matter to us too!