‘Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, distinguished members of the jury, distinguished award winners, respected authorities, ladies and gentlemen,
To be honest, in an ideal world, I would not be here with you today – because, of course, in an ideal world, no sick person would be ignored, and DNDi would have no reason to exist.
Yet, there are millions. Millions of people – neglected, forgotten, invisible – affected by often fatal diseases for which there are no medicines that can cure them. They are simply too poor for their illnesses to be of any interest on this side of the world.
Like Amasi, an 18-year-old Sudanese girl, infected with mycetoma, a tissue-destroying disease that many children in her village contract by walking barefoot on infected thorns. Amputation is often the only solution. Amasi was wheelchair-bound, not responding well to medication – and today, we have no more news of her.
Or consider Bimal, an Indian worker living with HIV and a disease called leishmaniasis. In Spain we know the disease because it affects dogs, but in many countries, it affects people. Bimal can no longer work because of his illness, which has plunged his family into poverty and forced his 14-year-old son to drop out of school to find a job to feed his parents and siblings.
These are just two examples, among many others, of diseases that kill and disfigure, and that devastate not only those who fall ill, but also their communities and loved ones.
Neglected diseases affect one in five people on our planet – that’s 1.6 billion people who suffer from one of them every year.
Many are appearing in new regions, especially due to climate change and population movements. In Spain, for example, there are now patients with Chagas disease and increasing cases of dengue fever.
Chagas disease will soon be one of the main causes of heart transplantation in Spain. Existing treatments are not satisfactory, and only 1% of people with Chagas receive them.
Yet, this unacceptable situation is not inevitable. Today, we can choose not to ignore these patients.
Indeed, look at COVID-19. The pandemic has shown us what feats science can achieve with a bit of political will. In less than a year, vaccines were invented for a disease that did not even exist years before.
The only reason the people we serve are deprived of the fruits of medical innovation is that they were born in the wrong place.
They are overlooked by traditional pharmaceutical research because they are too poor to constitute a lucrative market, and they are neglected by political decision-makers because their voices are not heard, because poverty pushes them to the fringes of society.
But I am not here to preach. On the contrary, I am here to share a message of hope.
Working closely with partners around the world, especially in affected countries, our organization has succeeded in developing 12 new treatments for neglected patients.
It is no exaggeration to say: together we have saved millions of lives.
Together, we are proving that a non-profit model of research and development, centred on patients’ needs, is possible.
That is why I would like to warmly thank the Princess of Asturias Foundation for this award, which represents a great loudspeaker to call attention to this issue. It is heartening to know that global health matters are crucial to the Jury and their Majesties, who have already recognized institutions such as the WHO with this award. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Let me conclude with the story of Brinol, a 12-year-old Congolese boy. Last April, Brinol was diagnosed with sleeping sickness.
It is a terrible disease that, if left untreated, inevitably leads to death. Twenty years ago, when DNDi was founded, the available treatment involved injections of an arsenic-based drug that was so toxic it killed one in 20 patients.
At DNDi, with all our partners, we developed a simple, safe, and effective pill. Brinol took it for 10 days at home. Today, Brinol is healthy, happy, cured of the disease, and dreaming of becoming a mechanic like his father.
Beyond Brinol’s case, thanks to the introduction of this simple treatment, we can now contemplate eliminating sleeping sickness globally.
I have come to Oviedo, to this beautiful Asturian land, to tell you that today, in 2023, thanks to advances in science, the work of our teams and partners, and the attention you are giving us with this award, we can, together, put an end to neglected diseases.
Thank you all.’
Photo credits: Fundación Princesa de Asturias