Global Health Diet Roundtable | Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)―The Japanese Expertise Needed Now

June 11, 2019
Tokyo, Japan

JCIE launched the Global Health Diet Roundtable series in 2018 as part of its Global Health and Human Security program. The aim of this program is to assist a bipartisan group of young and emerging Diet members in deepening their understanding of global health issues.

The 3rd Global Health Diet Roundtable was held on June 11, in cooperation with the Japan Alliance on Global NTDs (JAGntd) and SDGs Promise Japan, and focused on the topic of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).  The speakers were Professor Kenji Hirayama (Executive Director of JAGntd and Professor, Department of Immunogenetics, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Nagasaki University) and Catherine Ohura (CEO, Global Health Innovative Technology Fund). 

Professor Hirayama explained that NTDs have not been adequately addressed worldwide because the majority of those who are infected are poor, and so it is difficult for such research to be profitable for pharmaceutical companies. Also, in many cases the mortality rate is not high.

At one time, schistosomiasis—an NTD also known as snail fever—was widespread in Japan. For the first time in the world, Japanese researchers identified the Japanese Schistosoma parasite and its life cycle and were able to eradicate it. The reason for that success was that local residents and the government worked together to raise awareness in the community and developed a cooperative system. He noted that sharing this type of experience could be extremely helpful in the global control of NTDs.

Ms. Ohura described the work of her organization, the GHIT Fund, a public-private fund that uses Japanese technology and knowledge to support the development of new drugs for neglected disease patients. She explained that they are currently in the late stages of clinical trials for therapeutic drugs to treat two NTDs, and they are hoping to have those approved within the next few years.  

In the discussions that followed, Diet member expressed their appreciation for the reminder of Japan’s own success in fighting these battles against infectious disease, stressing the need to hand that knowledge down to successive generations and to share that experience more broadly with the world. Naoyuki Kawahara, the CEO of Rocinantes, an NPO carrying out medical work in Sudan, noted that there is also a need to take approaches that are in keeping with the local capacity, such as efforts in Africa to distribute traditional medicines made with native African herbs. 

It was also noted that the goals set by the London Declaration on NTDs of eradicating or preventing transmission of 10 diseases by 2020 was going to be difficult to meet, and so there was a call for Japan to take a leadership role in supporting the WHO in creating a post-London Declaration to further pursue those goals, which would also allow Japan to contribute to SDG 3.