Friday, September 15, 2006

Gates Foundation gives $68 million to fight tropical diseases

SEATTLE -- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced Thursday four grants totaling more than $68.2 million to fight three tropical diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people each year in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The diseases - hookworm, leishmaniasis and trypanosomiasis - are transmitted by parasites and worms. They can cause death or lifelong disfigurement or stunt children's growth and mental development.

No vaccines exist to prevent most of these diseases and the few drugs that are available to combat them are expensive and have serious side effects, foundation officials said.

"Many of the world's most debilitating illnesses are virtually unheard of in the rich world. But they're a fact of life for millions of people in poor countries," said Tachi Yamada, president of the global health program at the Gates Foundation.

The largest of the four grants will give $32 million to the Seattle-based Infectious Disease Research Institute to speed up development of a vaccine for leishmaniasis. This parasitic disease affects more than 12 million people worldwide and kills thousands each year, the World Health Organization said.

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