WASHINGTON, D.C. — H.R. 3460: End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act passed the United States House of Representatives on December 3, 2019. Sixteen days later, the Senate passed the legislation as part of a large spending package. The president signed the bill on December 20. Here are important details about H.R. 3460.
The Purpose of the Bill
H.R. 3460 affirms that the U.S. supports a wide range of research and development activities to effectively treat and eventually eradicate neglected tropical diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that more than 1.4 billion people around the world are afflicted by neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) while two billion people remain at risk. The bill notes that NTDs lead to up to 534,000 deaths every year. Furthermore, NTDs are responsible for more disabilities and premature deaths than either malaria or tuberculosis.
These diseases often cause disfigurement, which can lead to stigma, discrimination and marginalization. NTDs increase healthcare costs and cause billions of dollars in economic burden. They mostly afflict low and middle-income countries, but they exist in developed countries as well, especially among impoverished communities. The bill notes that “at least 100 countries face 2 endemic NTD burdens, and 30 countries carry 6 or more endemic NTDs.”
The End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act defines neglected tropical diseases as “infections caused by pathogens, including viruses, bacteria, protozoa and helminths, that disproportionately impact individuals living in extreme poverty, especially in developing countries.” The bill lists several specific diseases, including Buruli ulcer (Mycobacterium ulcerans infection), Chagas disease, dengue or severe dengue fever, dracunculiasis (Guinea worm disease) and Echinococcosis
Directives of the Bill
The bill calls for immediate research and development activities to combat all neglected tropical diseases. It calls for robust epidemiological data to determine who is at risk of developing the diseases and what is the appropriate treatment frequency for them. For instance, 80 percent of infections for the 14 most prevalent diseases are due to soil-transmitted helminths (STH) and schistosomiasis.
One effective, long-term solution is deworming. Deworming can be conducted in schools and can reduce the number of children who miss school by 25 percent. Deworming also decreases the likelihood of contracting the illnesses for other children and younger siblings who do not receive treatment.
According to H.R. 3460, USAID’s Neglected Tropical Diseases Program has contributed significantly to the global effort to contain and eliminate NTDs. USAID has helped distribute treatments to “31 countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean.” The bill declares that the USAID’s Neglected Tropical Diseases Program should expand to increase school-based programs, provide treatment packages to those in need and continue developing new ways to accelerate progress in NTD elimination.
The Legislative Process
Rep. Christopher H. Smith [R-NJ-4] introduced the End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act on June 25, 2019. The bill was then passed on to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The House passed the bill through a voice vote, so there is no record of how each representative voted. On December 4, the U.S. Senate received the bill. After reading it twice, as is customary, the Senate referred it to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. On December 19, the Act passed the Senate.
According to the Institute for Spending Reform, any new spending that will be required by the End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act will not come from taxpayers, which made the bill more likely to pass. Furthermore, the bill would not require any new spending for USAID or the State Department since it simply codifies current U.S. policy. December 20, 2019, President Trump signed the bipartisan spending package into law.
H.R. 3460: End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act seeks to increase and improve existing U.S. efforts to combat neglected tropical diseases through research and development. The bill was passed by both Houses of Congress and signed into law by the president. It will impact the way USAID and the State Department deal with NTDs and the way the U.S. encourages WHO and U.N. Development Programme to do so.
– Sarah Frazer