The Swedish initiative, World Infection Fund (Världsinfektionsfonden, Vif), a politically and religiously independent fundraising organization, has been founded by prominent scientists and voluntary forces. Its aim is to combat the infectious diseases of the world’s poor.
Infectious disease is the main obstacle for advancing health and development in the developing world. In these countries infectious diseases account for 60-70 % of all sickness and mortality. Young children and pregnant women are the groups most affected, but the diseases have grave consequences in all stages of life; for school attendance, education and employment.
For many infectious diseases there are satisfactory vaccines and treatments, but these do far from always reach those in the greatest need of them. In the developing countries, particularly in the countryside, even getting a diagnosis can be difficult. And those who do may not afford the medications. Another problem to be dealt with is resistance development; the old drugs are no longer effective. And in other cases there is no medication available whatsoever.
Medical Research Today
Not very long ago, the developed world faced a similar situation, with infectious disease as the main cause of poor health, but thanks to successful development of medications and vaccines (antibiotics for bacterial infections and vaccines for measles and polio, for example) and the bringing about of well functioning public health systems and medical services, these medical conditions mean less today. Along with this positive trend, the R&D focus has been shifted towards so called welfare diseases. Medical R&D today is principally, and at an increasing rate, driven by the powers of the market. Drug development is motivated by a possible, marginal health improvement of wealthy groups of patients in countries where medical security systems are generous. But bacteria and viruses do not recognize national boundaries: Globalization has led to infections with for example HIV/AIDS, SARS and avian influenza also in the developed countries.
The 10/90 gap
Less than 10 % of the worldwide expenditure on health research and development is devoted to the major health problems of 90 % of the population. Thus, it is the diseases of the rich that drive health research primarily, despite the fact that R&D on infectious diseases in low-income countries would be substantially more cost-effective, from a health point of view, than it is on welfare diseases. A new approach taking global responsibility demands a radically different prioritization and mobilization of the international community. The UN, the WHO, the EU and other organizations have already taken a number of initiatives. But this is not by far enough to fill the gaps.
A Swedish contribution
Swedish medicine has long tradition of infectious disease control, infection medicine and drug development of international class. This is one of the reasons the EU chose Stockholm as the seat of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Sweden can use this position to develop more of a global perspective on infectious disease issues. The Swedish government has taken pioneering and powerful measures in this direction. In the prime minister’s keynote speech it was stated, ”a new powerful Swedish governmental aid effort is being initiated, aimed at research, treatment and prevention of diseases like HIV/AIDS, measles, TB and malaria. Widened partnership will be established between Sweden and countries where the diseases have great impact, and other actors. Universities and the pharmaceutical industry are invited to take part.”
World Infection Fund (Vif)
The overall objective of the World Infection Fund is to combat the infectious diseases of the world’s poor. Vif intends to be a significant base of resources for promoting research on, and development of improved means and methods in the combat against the infectious diseases, and a strong voice in Sweden for broadening the understanding of infectious disease and its effects on health and development in the developing countries. Vif intends to be a significant actor on the fundraising market and thereby be able to finance research, method development and to generate public opinion. The Swedish Foundation for Fundraising Control (SFI) supervises VIF’s giro account, PlusGiro 90 00 65-4.