July 4, 2024

Stakeholders commit to ensure preschool-aged children's access to the new paediatric treatment option for schistosomiasis

Panelists from Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda share experiences and challenges in preparing for introduction of the new paediatric treatment option for schistosomiasis.

Key stakeholders at a recently convened strategic dialogue in Tokyo committed to advancing efforts towards equitable and sustainable access to a new treatment for preschool-aged children affected by the neglected tropical disease schistosomiasis.


Schistosomiasis is a significant global health issue, affecting millions of people, particularly in Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 779 million people in 78 countries are at risk of infection, including 50 million preschool-aged children. The disease not only impacts health but also has profound social and economic consequences, hindering educational achievement and economic productivity, and perpetuating cycles of poverty.


Despite their vulnerability, preschool-aged children have been largely excluded from accessing treatment mainly due to the lack of a suitable paediatric treatment option. However, this is set to change with the availability of a new paediatric treatment option for preschool-aged children developed by the Pediatric Praziquantel Consortium , an international public-private partnership financially supported by the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership , the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT Fund) and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany . Access to this new treatment option has the potential to significantly improve the lives of children and their communities.

Two recent milestones that have been achieved – the European Medicines Agency's positive scientific opinion in December 2023 on the use of the treatment for preschool-aged children and its addition to the WHO's List of Prequalified Medicines in early May 2024 – have brought the treatment closer to those in need.


The event, titled "The Tokyo Commitment: Ensuring Children's Access to the New Paediatric Treatment Option for Schistosomiasis," was organized by Uniting Efforts for Innovation, Access and Delivery (Uniting Efforts), a joint initiative of the Government of Japan, the GHIT Fund, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-led Access and Delivery Partnership (ADP). It brought together key stakeholders, including the Pediatric Praziquantel Consortium, the WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases, and country representatives from Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda.


The Government of Japan has been a steadfast and long-term supporter of strengthening health systems and of addressing neglected tropical diseases such as schistosomiais.


Mr. Tetsuya Itani, Director, Office of Global Health Cooperation, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan, gives opening remarks.

In opening remarks at the dialogue, Mr. Tetsuya Itani, Director, Office of Global Health Cooperation, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan, applauded the latest achievements and pointed to the next urgent priority. “Now, we need to equitably deliver the new paediatric treatment option to patients who need them and ensure sustainable patient access into the future,” he said.


“The UNDP-led ADP and its partners are committed to the common goal of achieving the equitable access of this new treatment option,” said Cecilia Oh, Regional Lead and Access and Delivery Partnerships Programme Advisor at UNDP. “We recognize that to deliver new innovations, we need to ensure that investments in R&D should also have a corresponding emphasis on building capacities at the country level to access and deliver the innovations. Starting this process early, we can prove the power of a model that prioritizes science, access and equity.”

At the dialogue, a draft document developed by Uniting Efforts was disseminated that consolidates insights and lessons learned, titled "Integrating the paediatric treatment option into schistosomiasis prevention and control: Building blocks for equitable access." This document provides a model for the crucial policy and programmatic measures needed to enable successful access and scale up of health technologies at the country level. It aims to facilitate multisectoral planning and coordination and offers a framework for international stakeholders and technical partners to support country readiness.


“The GHIT Fund has invested 1.85 billion yen in the Pediatric Praziquantel Consortium to advance the development of a new treatment option for paediatric schistosomiasis,” said Dr. Osamu Kunii, CEO, GHIT Fund. “While our primary role is financial support, we also serve as a catalyst and are committed to fostering collaboration among key partners. Today marks a significant milestone in our journey toward success. We must unite our efforts to ensure this treatment reaches the patients who need it most.”


During the strategic dialogue, stakeholders discussed the importance of collaboration in preparing for the introduction of the new treatment option and ensuring equitable and sustainable access. The discussions emphasized the need for technical support and domestic resource mobilization for implementing programmes to introduce the new paediatric treatment option, both in the initial phase and for the long term.


Participants at the dialogue also gained insights from country partners leading the way in preparing for the new treatment option, who will implement small-scale pilot deployments of the treatment option. They exchanged knowledge on various aspects, including research into identifying optimal delivery models, implementation protocols, monitoring and evaluation frameworks, and advocacy and social mobilization strategies, while acknowledging each country's unique cultural contexts and challenges.


This included lessons from the STEPPS project (Strengthening Capacity for Delivery and Uptake of Paediatric Praziquantel Formulation for Schistosomiasis) in Tanzania, led by the National Institute for Medical Research and supported by ADP, and from the Pediatric Praziquantel Consortium’s ADOPT programme , which collaborates with country partners in Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya and Uganda.


Dr. Paul Erasto Kazyoba, Chief Research Scientist at the National Institute for Medical Research, spoke about Tanzania's journey, highlighting the step-by-step cross-disciplinary approach and the numerous challenges overcome. An integrated delivery model, utilizing both 'test and treat' through routine public health services and mass drug administration, will be piloted in three districts beginning in June of this year.


“We have made significant progress and are ready to move forward. However, we still need support, particularly through inter-country knowledge exchange, to learn from the experiences of other countries. This dialogue is a prime example of how we can benefit from shared knowledge,” said Dr. Paul Erasto Kazyoba.


Dr. Alfred Mubangizi, Assistant Commissioner for Health Services, Vector Borne & Neglected Tropical Diseases at the Ministry of Health of Uganda, reiterated the magnitude of this endeavor. “Treating the preschool-aged children in Uganda will accelerate efforts towards achieving the goal of elimination of parasitic infections amongst the population and achieving global schistosomiasis elimination as a public health problem by 2030.”


Dr. Satoshi Ezoe, Director, Global Health Strategy Division, International Cooperation Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan provides the concluding statement for the strategic dialogue.

In his concluding statement, Dr. Satoshi Ezoe, Director, Global Health Strategy Division, International Cooperation Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, emphasized four points that the Government of Japan considers to be essential to overcome the remaining challenges to successful scale up of the new treatment option: “1) To understand efforts to develop the pediatric praziquantel to treat schistosomiasis; 2) To share a common goal and plan to promote and sustain efforts towards equitable access to pediatric praziquantel; 3) To identify ongoing efforts at the national level of each country to prepare for access to new treatment; and 4) To conduct strategic dialogue among key stakeholders and build global cooperation.”


The Tokyo Commitment marks a significant step towards ensuring that preschool-aged children in schistosomiasis-endemic countries receive the treatment they urgently need. With continued collaboration and dedication from all stakeholders, we can move closer to a world where no child is left behind in the fight against schistosomiasis.