Behind the Gates Foundation's Research War Room in the Fight Against Neglected Infectious Diseases

The basket of so-called neglected infectious diseases (NID) includes some very nasty ailments, such as river blindness, elephantiasis, leprosy, and guinea worm. None of these diseases inflicts the harm of, say, malaria, and most are exceptionally rare in developed countries. That's why they have been neglected, receiving little attention from private and government donors. Yet together, these horrible diseases account for an enormous amount of human suffering in some of the poorest places on earth, affecting a billion people every year.

Last year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a five-year $363 million effort to control 10 neglected infectious diseases by 2020 in partnership with USAID, the U.K. Department for International Development, and leading pharmaceutical companies.

Related: Gates Foundation: Grants for Global Health

In February 2013, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation moved a big chunk of its NID funding out the door with a $28.8 million grant to the Task Force for Global Health to help create a new Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center. The support center will "collaborate with the NID community to address priority research gaps" and "coordinate with partners to implement the research agenda for these diseases, while ensuring quick translation of new solutions into program policy."

The support center sounds like something of a "war room" in the escalating fight against NID.

One expert involved in this effort, Dr. Dominique Kyelem, a native of Burkina Faso, put the implications this way: "In Africa, we are plagued by disabling elephantiasis, river blindness, schistosomiasis, intestinal parasites, and blinding trachoma. This grant will support the research needed by program managers in my country and many others to eliminate and control these dreaded diseases."

Related: Trevor Mundel