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Donors commit $240 million to fight neglected tropical diseases

(Reuters) - Bill Gates, the World Bank and other donors are stepping up efforts to fight neglected tropical diseases in Africa and other low-income regions with a $240 million injection of new funding.

The new money follows a pledge by 13 drugmakers two years ago to donate medicines to tackle 10 parasitic and bacterial infections - such as river blindness, Guinea worm and sleeping sickness - that threaten one in six people worldwide.

Microsoft founder Gates and international agencies announced the new funding at a meeting in Paris on Wednesday, where experts gave a positive update on advances to date.

Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, said large-scale drug donations had already led to "tremendous progress".

"Together with the governments of endemic countries, we are fast approaching the goal of controlling or eliminating many of these ancient causes of human misery," she said.

There is still more to do, and $120 million of the new money will be channeled into a collaboration to combat soil-transmitted helminths, a group of intestinal worms that are among the most common infections in children living in poverty.

The new collaboration includes $50 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and $50 million from the Children's Investment Fund Foundation.

In addition, the World Bank Group is committing $120 million to support the fight against neglected diseases, including support for school-based deworming programmes.

Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Bayer and others are involved in the drug donation initiative.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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