Report on neglected tropical diseases: German...

Report on neglected tropical diseases: German…


/picture alliance, mylene Zizzo, Wostok Press

Berlin Despite increased research into neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in recent years, Germany is not yet among the world leaders, according to a study. The increase in German research activity is below the average of the ten most productive countries in the world, according to a report prepared under the leadership of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNITM). This was presented yesterday evening in Berlin.

We believe that more effort is needed to achieve the goals of sustainable development and the control, elimination and eradication of NTDs, said BNITM Chairman Jürgen May. More attention is needed to the role of NTDs, their role in the emergence of epidemics must be taken into account.

It is crucial to maintain awareness of this permanent health threat, especially now, says the study. Accordingly, Germany’s financial contribution is also moderate compared to other countries.

NTDs currently include 21 diseases that primarily affect disadvantaged groups in poorer countries – a total of one billion people, according to the study. 200,000 people die each year from NTDs as the primary cause, said May. He described a common vicious cycle of poverty and disease.

Examples include Chagas disease, tapeworm infections and dengue fever, as well as poisoning from snake bites, rabies and leprosy. The survey contains individual descriptions of the NTDs, such as their distribution, epidemiology and needs analysis.

The aim is to end the global spread of NTDs by 2030. So far, however, incentives to promote research and product development have been rare, even though so many people are affected. These diseases are caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or toxins.

The work was compiled by a group of around 30 experts from 16 German research institutions and organizations. The first edition of the NTD expertise was published in 2018.

More publications on the topic from Germany

One of the main findings of the study is that German research institutions increased the number of their publications on NTDs between 2018 and 2022, in line with the global trend: by 8.5 percent compared to the period 2013 to 2017. However, the ten most productive countries recorded an average increase of twelve percent.

Overall, scientific publications were published with a higher impact factor than in the period 2013 to 2017, May said.

Compared to the 2018 edition, there is a stronger contribution from German research institutions in clinical studies and patents: 25 patents are recorded for Germany for the period under review, making it the leading country in the implementation of research into patents within the European Union, the report shows.

After a peak in 2019, a decline in publications was recorded in 2022, said May. This could perhaps be explained by the corona pandemic and the concentration of many researchers on SARS-CoV-2. This particularly affects open access publications. Easy access to information is particularly important for experts in the countries affected by the NTDs.

So far, it has been difficult to gain an overview of funding amounts

According to the study, funding for research into neglected tropical diseases is difficult to measure precisely for several reasons. We recommend setting up a more structured database in Germany for all aspects of NTD funding, it says.

The paper assumes that funding amounts for German NTD research fluctuate. The level in 2018 and 2019 was between twelve and 13 million euros. A decline in the first year of the pandemic, 2020 (11.6 million), was followed by a sharp increase to more than 20 million, but this was due to an extraordinary funding amount of eight million euros for a larger project. 2022, on the other hand, shows the lowest value in five years: 9.6 million euros.

So far, research on this topic has benefited greatly from public funding, both nationally and internationally. This also entails risks and can lead to dependencies.

There is a risk that, under the increasing pressure of economic challenges, research in the field of global health will be given even lower priority and the impact of global health problems on our society will also be underestimated. Extract from the survey

According to the analysis, in Germany it is primarily universities and specialised non-university research institutions that publish on NTDs. Personal responsibility and equality of the partners in the affected countries must be taken into account, emphasised May.

Germany is committed to fighting NTDs

Germany joined the Kigali Declaration against neglected tropical diseases at the beginning of 2022. With coordinated measures such as building up laboratory capacities, the aim is to expand the health systems in affected countries by 2030 so that these diseases are reduced. Affected tropical states can join, as can other actors such as supporters, non-governmental organizations or companies.

May said they were very happy about the membership. One of the important activities is to identify and provide substantial funding. The donors must be reminded of their commitment at events such as the study presentation, but also in general.

What makes research difficult

At the event, several experts discussed, among other things, the reasons for the role played by German NTDs research to date. Beate Kampmann, director of the Institute of International Health at the Charité in Berlin, said that in addition to the amount of funding, it was also due to the opportunities for cooperation with international organizations. She herself had worked for a long time at Imperial College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, among others, before returning to Germany in 2023.

In England, there are still many established structures in which equal partnerships can be implemented in a different form, also against the backdrop of the colonial era, said Kampmann. German colleagues are still seen internationally as solid partners, but the bureaucracy is often criticized. Research funds cannot simply be passed on to African partners, which is different in England.

Achim Hrauf, director of the Institute for Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Parasitology at the University Hospital Bonn, also advocated a reduction in bureaucracy: It is important to consider which legal pitfalls can be removed. In some cases, things are made too difficult in Germany. Hrauf stressed that we must also be careful that experts do not migrate abroad due to a lack of continuous support.

The experts also stressed that there is a need to catch up when it comes to including partners from African countries as authors in papers. Up to now, the success of studies has unfairly depended on the authors’ affiliations, which is a fundamental problem, said May. The issue of authorship is one of the main frustrations of the African partners, added Kampmann. However, some journals with higher impact factors have already recognized the problem. © ggr/

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