In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to address neglected tropical diseases. When this bill passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the 115th Congress, Rep. Smith said:
“[This bill] deals with a group of seventeen parasitic, bacterial, and viral diseases which blind, disable, disfigure, and sometimes kill victims from among the more than one billion of the world’s poorest people. These diseases trap the most marginalized communities in a cycle of poverty. [This bill] will support the control and elimination of NTDs [natural tropical diseases] in the U.S. and abroad. This legislation emphasizes field research by USAID on the impact of treatments that helps future application of often lifesaving medicines. These diseases not only can keep children from attending school and their parents from working, they also cause excessive bleeding by mothers during birth and result in low birth weight babies. The most common NTDs can be controlled and eliminated with the application of low-cost donated medicines. However, there is still much work to be done to prepare for currently unknown diseases that may appear on the international scene and to reach the World Health Organization’s control and elimination goals by 2020. To achieve these goals, heightened support is needed now from both new and longstanding partners.”
The Borgen Project supports this bill. Its writer, Graham Gordon, says:
“According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost one-third of the world’s population is at risk of being affected by a neglected tropical disease (NTD). More than one billion people are currently afflicted. The vast majority of these people live in developing countries where treatment is unavailable or too expensive to be feasible. However, many of these diseases are easily treatable in already developed nations. The End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act aims to extend these cures and preventative measures to those who have not yet had access to them in an accessible and affordable manner… While NTDs are primarily located in developing countries, their impacts are felt domestically as well. In the U.S., the poor, or more specifically poor minorities, are susceptible to contracting these tropical diseases. Currently, 2.8 million African Americans are affected by toxocariasis. At least 300,000 people, mainly Latin American immigrants, are affected by Chagas disease. Besides the direct impact on U.S. soil, it has been shown time and time again that reducing poverty globally directly helps the U.S. economy. By creating conditions that are right for development in developing countries, we can help the poor become consumers. When the world has more consumers, it creates a larger need for jobs in the U.S. to create goods and diversify marketing strategies.”
The Sabin Vaccine Institute supported this bill in the 113th Congress. Its president, Dr. Peter Hotez, said:
“This bill offers real promise for the more than one billion impoverished people worldwide – including U.S. citizens – currently suffering unnecessarily from NTDs. Even with medicines already available to protect against the most common NTDs, and groundbreaking R&D initiatives underway, greater prioritization for treatment delivery, scientific discovery and other cost-effective investments are necessary to defeat these devastating diseases once and for all. I applaud Congressman Chris Smith’s leadership in raising the profile of NTDs, spotlighting neglected populations and championing the necessary actions to close the remaining gaps through this legislation. I urge other Congressional leaders, global policymakers and private partners to offer their support for this historic effort by joining the fight against some of today’s most pernicious diseases.”
This legislation passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee by voice vote with the support of six bipartisan House cosponsors, including five Democrats and one Republican. Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), has one Senate cosponsor, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS).
Last Congress, this bill passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee by voice vote with the support of 10 bipartisan House cosponsors, including eight Democrats and two Republicans. Its Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), had two bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including one Democrat and one Republican, and didn’t receive a committee vote.
Of Note: Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are diseases that disproportionately affect those living in extreme poverty, especially in tropical, developing areas such as Central America, South America, Central Africa, and Southeast Asia. The “neglected” part of the term refers to how these diseases are often hidden in remote, impoverished areas where people have no voice. There are currently 17 officially identified NTDs, of which the five most common are: intestinal worms from helminth infections, Schistosomiasis, Lymphatic Filariasis, Onchocerciasis, river blindness, and Trachoma.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that nearly one-third of the world’s population is at risk of being affected by an NTD. Each year, NTDs cause the loss of about 57 million years of accumulated life as a direct result of their symptoms. They also kill over 534,000 people a year, and can result in social ostracization and mental distress (which can be even worse for women and girls).
NTDs can also cause afflicted children to miss out on education due to the direct effects of the illnesses and fear of spreading the diseases. This affects children’s future success in life and countries’ economies.
Because NTDs can lead to high medical costs from hospital stays and ongoing treatment, their economic burdens can severely impact communities, contributing to lack of productivity and heightened healthcare costs. At an individual level, NTD sufferers experience fatigue that may make it difficult for them to hold a job, get an education, and contribute to their communities.
The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) notes that U.S. attention to and funding for NTDs have both increased “markedly” over the past 10 years. It notes, “Historically, the U.S. government’s response to NTDs was relatively limited, focusing largely on research and surveillance conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Department of Defense (DoD). In 2006, Congress first appropriated funds to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for integrated NTD control, after which the agency launched its NTD Program. In 2008, the USG announced expanded NTD efforts, building on USAID’s NTD Program. In 2012, the U.S. signed onto the London Declaration, and more recently, the U.S. adopted a longer term global health goal of protecting communities from infectious diseases and highlighted the important role of NTD efforts in achieving this goal.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Avatar_023)