SEATTLE, Washington — 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.
What are NTDs?
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 NTDs refers to how the diseases are often hidden in remote impoverished areas where the people have no voice. There are currently 17 NTDs that have been officially identified. The five most widespread diseases are intestinal worms from helminth infections, Schistosomiasis, Lymphatic Filariasis, Onchocerciasis, river blindness, Trachoma.
NTDs’ can cause premature disability, physical disfigurement and death. They cause a loss of about 57 million years of accumulated life as a direct result of their symptoms. Furthermore, they kill more than 534,000 people each year. In addition to the direct symptoms of the diseases, they can result in social ostracization and mental distress. This is even worse for girls and women.
How Are NTDs Related to Poverty?
As is the case with many diseases, those who cannot afford adequate healthcare, sanitation and nutrition are at higher risk of contracting NTDs. They infect impoverished people disproportionately more than those who are not. They also make it difficult for developing countries to get out of poverty. These diseases cause an economic impairment of billions of dollars due to loss of productivity and high healthcare costs.
In addition, afflicted children are much less likely to attend school due to the direct effects of the illnesses as well as fear of spreading the diseases. When children do not attend school, they miss out on the life skills necessary for succeeding financially in their adult life. For example, if hookworm were controlled in children attending primary school, that country would see a 43 percent increase in future earnings.
What is the End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act?
Sponsored by Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ-4), the End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act aims to support a broad range of implementation, research and development activities that work towards the treatment and eradication of NTDs. It would serve as an expansion of the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Neglected Tropical Diseases Act.
While the act does not aim to increase appropriations for USAID’s NTD programs, it does aim to evolve USAID’s research on the impact of NTDs. “This legislation emphasizes field research by USAID on the impact of treatments that helps future application of often lifesaving medicines,” Rep. Smith stated in a press release. The affected programs would be revamped to include greater international cooperation with nonprofit and international organizations, such as Results for Development and Response to Intervention International as well as pharmaceutical companies.
Centers of Excellence
A main point of cooperation concerns the maintenance and establishment of centers of excellence in afflicted countries. These centers of excellence provide the tools that are necessary to work towards the eradication of diseases. The temporary centers of excellence operate through private and public partnerships in order to provide adequate funding to conduct all necessary tasks. Pharmaceutical companies have already invested $19 billion worth of essential drugs through private investments in centers of excellence. Through these efforts, massive progress has already been made towards ending NTDs.
The act’s provisions are planned to last through 2023. However, if all goes according to plan, the centers of excellence should be obsolete by then. The NTDs will be under control enough to relinquish treatment measures to the governments of each respective country. That is not to say, however, that funding would end there. USAID would continue to carry out its mission to support 25 developing countries around the world to facilitate the conditions necessary for sustainable development and social well-being.
The Global Consequences of NTDs
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 voice of every U.S. citizen is crucial to showing Congress what bills should be passed. Contacting representatives in Washington D.C. is the most effective way to make your voice heard. A quick, 30-second call or email to their congressional offices can make a difference. There is even a pre-written email system on The Borgen Project’s website to support the End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act.
– Graham Gordon