Fondation Merieux

A family foundation dedicated to fighting infectious diseases

Fondation Mérieux promotes the fight against neglected tropical diseases

9 October 2008, Bamako (Mail)

"It's a ground-breaking and very useful initiative", analyses Marycelin Baba, Nigerian participant at the Conference on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD), held at the Charles Mérieux Centre in Bamako, from 25 to 27 of September.

Fondation Mérieux promotes the fight against neglected tropical diseases

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) conference, at the Charles Mérieux Centre in Bamako (Mali)

In association with the Calouste Gulbenkian (Portugal), Nuffield (UK) and Volkswagen (Germany) Foundations.

This unanimous enthusiasm is a testimony of the numerous interests at this event, just as it is of the participation, among the 70 registered, of distinguished national and international health representatives, including Mr Oumar Touré, the Malian Health Minister, who has accorded his patronage and participated in the opening ceremony, and also the Dr. Julie Jacobson of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and also the Dr. Michael Chew of the Wellcome Trust.

Organised collectively by the Calouste Gulbenkian (Portugal), Mérieux (France), Nuffield (UK), and Volkswagen (Germany) Foundations, the conference on NTDs addressed the pressing needs of the sub-Saharan scientific community. Firstly by its very location, at the Charles Mérieux Centre in Bamako, Mali, an endemic zone for many NTDs. Secondly, by its principle objective of awarding postdoctoral grants to African scientists for research projects carried out on the continent and which serve the local people. And also by the activities that have marked these three days, with keynote speeches made by leading specialists in Neglected Tropical Diseases, such as Professor David Molyneux, from the Liverpool School of Tropical medicine and Dr Michael Parkhouse, from the Gulbenkian Institute and also workshops based on themes of special concern. These themes were introduced by one or several specialists in the related sector and then submitted to debate between participants who were thus able to immediately exchange and share the benefits of their daily working practices. Richard Philipps, a Ghanaian participant working on the Buruli ulcer, enthusiastically recognised the great advantage of having a workshop on how to write up a quality research project, "an area where it is important to have the right keys, especially with regards to our specific pathologies, which are poorly financed". Ethics and setting financial priorities on research areas on NTDs in Africa also featured in the programme of the other two days. A publication released by the European Commission together with the four Foundations will resume the conclusions of these workshops. Finally, all participants welcomed the opportunity of meeting one another and have expressly called for the creation of a continental network of researchers for Neglected Tropical Diseases.The greatest success for these four Foundations will therefore have been that of shifting the spotlight onto a neglected sector that attracts few financial backers. The postdoctoral researchers who submitted research projects to the jury all work on one or several of these fourteen pathologies which are neglected by the international community and financial supporters, but which nevertheless allow little respite for the local populations. Leishmaniasis, onchocerciasis, lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis, trypanosomiasis are illnesses which have a low mortality rate, but a particularly high morbidity rate, affecting over one billion people. Even if they do not bring about, unlike malaria, TB and aids, millions of deaths and an inherent international conscience, they are still particularly incapacitating and contribute to the persistent cycle of poverty. Controlling them represents a real opportunity for development.

The chosen postdoctoral researchers will be allocated, following interviews held at Bamako and after deliberation, a three year grant from 100 000 to 150 000 Euros, from global envelope of 2 million Euros, which will allow them to carry out the practical and local application of their research.

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