A GLASGOW University tropical diseases expert has welcomed the news of a £220 million UK Government package to protect 200m people worldwide from debilitating diseases.

Michael Barrett (right), a professor of biochemical parasitology, believes the UK aid pledge will help fight five of the worst neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in 25 of the world’s poorest developing nations.

The money will be used to deliver 600 million treatments to target the NTDs lymphatic filariasis – also known as elephantiasis – onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, visceral leishmaniasis, and trachoma.

The diseases affect more than a billion people worldwide.

Barrett said: “This is an important step in the fight against these debilitating neglected tropical diseases.

“They cause disability, death and disfigurement, trap victims in a cycle of poverty, and are estimated to cost developing countries billions of pounds in lost productivity.”

He explained how many of the tropical diseases had almost been eradicated until malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS epidemics hammered health budgets in developing nations, leading to another spike.

He said: “By the 1980s, with malaria, TB and AIDS decimating already stretched health budgets, developing countries had little left for these other diseases. Western pharmaceutical companies also had no incentive to develop new drugs or vaccines for these ailments. They were truly neglected.”

He added: “Without control measures, sleeping sickness surged from just tens of thousands of cases, to 300,000 people infected by the year 2000. NTDs such as schistosomiasis, leishmaniasis, onchocerciasis, elephantiasis and yaws had a resurgence, collectively afflicting more than a billion people.

“Yet, because individually, these unpronounceable diseases were either rare, or just debilitating, they received scant attention.

“Onchocerciasis, for example, also known as river blindness, affects hundreds of millions of people in the tropics, but seldom kills. It causes profound itching (patients may scratch huge sores over their body), and eventually leads to destruction of the optic nerve and blindness. Its insidious nature, taking years to advance, means that villages exist where entire adult populations are blind, and guided by children, themselves infected, but yet to lose their sight.”