Tackling diseases in developing countries

We work to tackle some of the root causes of disease and ill-health and contribute to healthier communities around the world.

We are one of the few companies researching treatments and vaccines for all three of the World Health Organization’s priority infectious diseases: malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.

In developing countries, people affected by certain diseases face stigma and discrimination, disability and a vicious cycle of ill health and poverty. Diseases that can be prevented, managed, or cured cause significant suffering and mortality due to a lack of basic knowledge and inadequate health services.

We support activities to tackle these diseases through donations of medicines, financial and practical support. Our global health programmes focus on malaria, lymphatic filariasis and intestinal worms in partnership with governments, NGOs and other organisations to maximise benefits for communities.

We also collaborate closely with United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organisation (WHO), Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and financing agencies such as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) to support the introduction of vaccines once they are available. GSK is the leading vaccine supplier to organisations such as UNICEF and PAHO and we provide vaccines to help protect children and babies from infectious diseases including pneumococcal disease, rotavirus gastroenteritis, meningitis, pertussis (whooping cough), measles, polio, mumps and rubella.

Find out more about our research efforts to fight diseases of the developing world

Malaria

The fight against malaria

Malaria is responsible for more than 550,000 deaths a year and around 3.2 billion people are at risk. Spread by mosquitos, around 90 percent of estimated deaths from malaria occur in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), and 77 per cent of these are in children under the age of 5. The human cost is enormous, as is the economic cost – malaria consumes around 40 per cent of all public health expenditure in endemic countries.

We are playing a significant role to improve the health of communities affected by malaria in three ways:

  • researching new malaria medicines, treatments and vaccines
  • pricing our anti-malarials in the least developed countries and sub-Saharan Africa affordably
  • investing in community activities funded by the GSK African Malaria Partnership

To date there is no licensed vaccine available for the prevention of malaria. In 2014 GSK reached a major milestone with the submission of a regulatory application for our candidate malaria vaccine, RTS,S, to the European Medicines Agency (EMA). This submission follows our 2013 announcement of phase III data showing that RTS,S almost halved the number of cases of clinical malaria in young children (aged 5-17 months at first vaccination) in the 18 months after vaccination.

If approved and recommended for use, the eventual price of the vaccine will cover costs and generate a small return of around 5% that will be ploughed back into research for the next generation of malaria medicines and vaccines.

Our fight against malaria - find out more

Partnership

No one organisation has the ability to defeat malaria on its own. That’s why we are working in partnership with other organisations to develop new tools whilst increasing the use of existing methods like bed nets and indoor spraying of insecticides.

Through our African Malaria Partnership, we have invested more than £4.8 million since 2001 to support community programmes that aim to prevent malaria by training health workers and volunteers, distributing insecticide-treated bed nets and promoting awareness campaigns.

We work with non-profit partners to deliver support on the ground to communities in sub-Saharan Africa. In Sierra Leone, for example, we work with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which has reached over two million people – 33% of the population – by training religious leaders who in turn train community volunteers on malaria prevention.

Neglected tropical diseases

For many years we have focused research and development on the elimination of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). NTDs affect more than 1.4 billion people in some of the world’s poorest communities. They cause disability, disfiguration and death, they stretch healthcare budgets and they severely constrain development opportunities.

Uniting to combat NTDs partnership

In January 2012, we joined other global pharmaceutical companies and leading organisations, including the World Health Organization, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UK Department for International Development, US Agency for International Development and the World Bank, in a new united effort to support countries to defeat Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). Together, this coalition supports the goals set out by WHO to control or eliminate 10 of the 17 NTDs by 2020.

Over the past two years, the partnership has made significant progress. More than 70 countries have delivered detailed plans to control or eliminate NTDs and major pharmaceutical countries have donated more than one billion treatments to meet 100 per cent of drug requests by endemic countries.

Infographic: ending the neglect and reaching 2020 goals

Lymphatic filariasis

LF is transmitted by mosquitoes. It is more commonly known as elephantiasis, a name which graphically describes the unsightly hardening and thickening of the skin that frequently accompanies massive swelling in the arms, legs, breasts and genitals.

The disease is one of the principal causes of permanent disability worldwide, affecting more than 120 million people in tropical and sub-tropical areas of Africa, Asia, the Pacific, the Middle East and the Americas. It carries with it a high social burden for those trying to live in a society that they do not always feel accepted in because their appearances are considered shameful.

Lymphatic filariasis - factsheet

Intestinal worms

Soil-transmitted helminth (STH) infections (intestinal worms) can stunt growth and cause anaemia and malnutrition. They can impact a child’s ability to learn and affect their performance at school.

Three major intestinal worms - roundworm, whipworm and hookworm - are among the most widespread parasites worldwide. Together these parasites inflict a heavy health burden in tropical and subtropical countries.

Fortunately there are tools that offer hope. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), de-worming can result in immediate improvements in child health, leading to increased growth rates, better school attendance and performance, improved iron status, and a decline in anaemia. WHO recommends treatment of all children in endemic areas with anthelminthic drugs - such as our anti-parasite medicine albendazole - to reduce and control intestinal worm infection and illness.

Soil-transmitted helminths - factsheet

How we are tackling LF and intestinal worms

We are an active partner in one of the world’s biggest and boldest public health initiatives, led by the WHO, to rid the world of LF. 

GSK has donated more than five billion albendazole tablets to help eliminate LF and control intestinal worms over the last 15 years. Our donations have reached over 600 million people – including 200 million children – and 15 countries have completed mass drug administration campaigns for LF. Researchersestimate the number of people at risk of LF infection has almost halved since 2000.

We have donated albendazole tablets to support efforts to eliminate LF in 61 countries and contribute to the WHO’s goal to regularly de-worm 75% of school-age children in 55countries where intestinal worms are endemic. In 2014, we donated 678 million albendazole tablets for LF elimination and 180 million tablets to treat intestinal worms.

Hygiene education

Our PHASE programme

Every year three million people die of diarrhoeal disease, most of them children. The spread of this disease can be easily prevented by improving water quality and encouraging people to wash their hands. Our Personal Hygiene and Sanitation Education (PHASE) programme, run in partnership with NGOs, tackles both issues.

Teaching children and families

As well as improving local water pipes, pumps and other infrastructure, PHASE teaches children how to wash their hands and why it is important, using easy to understand books and story cards which are adapted to reflect everyday lives in each country. The programme encourages children to share what they have learnt with their families and communities. Since PHASE began the programme has reached at least 1.4 million children with information about how to change their behaviour to keep healthy.

Integrating oral healthcare

Poor oral hygiene can be a significant problem in developing countries, affecting an individual’s overall health and quality of life. In partnership with the Earth Institute’s Millennium Villages Project we are integrating oral healthcare into PHASE. We aim to introduce and test effective measures through behaviour change and promotion of good oral health practice, nutrition and eating habits.

Our goal is to set up a model for integrating PHASE with school de-worming as part of the expanded albendazole donation programme.

Read our 2013 review of the PHASE programme (PDF)