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UK boosts tropical disease funding

Britain will spend five times as much money helping the international effort to eliminate infectious tropical diseases, it has been announced.

International Development Minister Stephen O'Brien said funding for Neglected Tropical Diseases is to increase from £50 million to £245 million between 2011 and 2015 as part of a global push to eradicate diseases including river blindness and elephantiasis.

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) current affect one billion people and kill more than half a million every year.

The extra money will help supply more than four treatments every second for people in the developing world for the next four years, protecting more than 140 million people, the Department for International Development (DFID) said.

The move comes ahead of a conference in London on January 30 when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - which works to improve healthcare and reduce extreme poverty globally - will join governments, NGOs, and other organisations in making commitments to tackle NTDs.

Britain's increased aid is largely focused on four diseases - lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), onchocerciasis (river blindness), schistosomiasis (bilharzia) and dracunculiasis (Guinea Worm).

Elephantiasis, which is spread by mosquitoes, is caused by parasitic worms and leads to the abnormal enlargement of the limbs and genitals.

Bilharzia is caught through contact with contaminated fresh water that contains parasites and leads to chronic ill health, damages internal organs, impairs the growth of children and causes more than 200,000 deaths a year in Africa.

River blindness is transmitted through the bites of infected blackflies. Adult worms in humans develop, producing larvae which live in the skin causing intense itching, skin lesions and eye disease that can lead to blindness.

Water-borne infection Guinea Worm leaves people bedridden for months. The worm can grow up to three feet long and is not usually fatal, but the wound where it emerges can develop potentially life-threatening infections such as tetanus.