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Will drugs, insecticides bring end to 4 tropical diseases?

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Developing countries should be able to get rid of four major tropical diseases within 10 years with investments in cheap drugs and new insecticides, medical researchers said Saturday.

Millions of people are at risk from the four diseases, leprosy, river blindness, Chagas disease and lymphatic filariasis, according to a report by the Special Program for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR).The public health scourges can be controlled thanks to treatments developed over the past 20 years, insect-killing bacteria, simple insecticides, and new mapping programs to track diseases, it said.

"It's quite remarkable (that) we really have now the tools for elimination of four major diseases in the world," said Tore Godal, director of TDR, funded by the World Bank, World Health Organization, and United Nations Development Program.

"The main message is that to invest in this kind of research gives you very good value for money, though it takes a long time," he said in a telephone interview from Geneva.

The stigma from these diseases is more damaging than their health effects. "They don't kill. They throw people out of society into the gutters," Godal said, adding that in India, girls with leprosy are typically thrown out of school.

The TDR report estimated it would cost $370 million over the next four years to help eliminate leprosy, a severely deforming disease caused by bacteria.

More than half a million new leprosy cases are reported annually in 60 countries in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America, according to WHO. The report said a treatment involving three drugs "is able to cure all patients."

Lymphatic filariasis, the most widespread of the four illnesses targeted, has been successfully treated with the drug ivermectin combined with another drug.