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GSK increases support for WHO strategy to improve children’s health with new 5-year commitment to expand donations of albendazole medicine

Increased donation to enable de-worming of all school age children in Africa

Issued Thursday 14 October, London UK

At the launch of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) first report on Neglected Tropical Diseases today, GSK announced a new five year commitment to expand the donation of its medicine albendazole to treat children at risk of intestinal worms, known as soil-transmitted helminths (STH).

Today’s report confirms that intestinal worms cause more ill health in school-aged children than any other infection. STHs aggravate malnutrition and amplify rates of anaemia. In doing so, they impede children’s physical growth and cognitive development, contributing significantly to school absenteeism. Lack of access to safe water and proper sanitation are the main factors in the persistence and prevalence of these diseases.

As part of control programmes, the WHO recommend annual treatment of all children aged 1-15 in STH endemic areas with single dose albendazole (or mebendazole). This ‘de-worming’ usually results in immediate improvements in child health and development.  It also reduces absenteeism from school leading to improved academic achievement, and helps to reduce the burden on already overstretched health systems.

Under the new commitment announced today, GSK will increase production capacity of albendazole through new investments in its factories in South Africa and India. These investments will provide an additional 400 million treatments of albendazole per year.  This represents a major new contribution to the UN’s strategy to improve women’s and children’s health and, when combined with existing de-worming programmes, will enable the countries to scale-up their efforts to achieve universal coverage of school age children in Africa.  Shipments of the new donations are expected to start in late 2011. 

Andrew Witty, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline said: “The scale of what is required to prevent and treat neglected tropical diseases means it is critical we take an integrated approach.  We commend the WHO’s leadership to increase the visibility of these diseases to the global health community.  There is growing momentum within industry, government and other partners to supply both medicines and funds. Our activity in this area is widespread, with ongoing research in both prevention and treatment. Today, marks another significant commitment by GSK and I hope will help to make a major difference to the lives of people in those countries facing these diseases.”

Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO said: "This pledge extends a long-term collaboration between WHO and GSK in tackling diseases that are perpetuated by poverty and keep people in poverty, especially in Africa. Albendazole is a safe, effective, and easy to administer treatment for children infected with soil-transmitted helminthiasis, bringing rapid results with long-term benefits. The GSK donation means that many millions more will benefit as part of a strategy that can break the cycle of poverty, ill health, poor school performance, and lost productivity." 

The new commitment to supply 400 million tablets of albendazole per year for the treatment of intestinal worms is in addition to GSK’s ongoing commitment to supply the WHO with 600 million tablets of albendazole per year for use in the Global Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filiariasis (GAELF), a chronic disease that causes debilitating damage to the lymphatic system, kidneys, arms, legs and genitals.    

This brings GSK’s total donation to the WHO to 1 billion tablets of albendazole a year. 

Notes to editors

- Intestinal worms affect more than 1.2 billion people worldwide, including 300 million living in Africa. 

- The greatest impact of intestinal worms falls on children.  For children aged 5-14 years in low-income countries, intestinal worms account for 11-12% of the total disease burden in this age group – their single largest contributor to disease.

- Carrying worms contributes to malnutrition, slow growth and development.  Hookworm associated anaemia in women of child bearing age contributes significantly to low birth weight and excess infant mortality.

- School enrolment by girls increases with de-worming programmes and their dropout and retention rates improve.  Of the estimated 562 million school-age children in the developing world, worm infections cause about 200 million years of lost primary schooling.

- There are three main species of intestinal worm; the round worm (Ascaris lumbricoides), the whipworm (Trichuris trichiura) and hookworms (Necator americanus and Ancylostoma duodenale).

- Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a group of chronic disabling infections that affect the world’s poorest populations.  They are an indicator of poverty and disadvantage.  Of the world’s poorest 2.7 billion people living on less than $2 per day, an estimated 1.2 billion are affected by NTDs.

GlaxoSmithKline – one of the world’s leading research-based pharmaceutical and healthcare companies – is committed to improving the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better and live longer.  For further information please visit www.gsk.com.

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