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Monday, January 31, 2011

Neglected Tropical Diseases: Background, Responses, and Issues for Congress

Tiaji Salaam-Blyther
Specialist in Global Health

Over the past decade, global health has become a priority in U.S. foreign policy, and U.S. funding for related efforts has more than tripled. Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), an important focus of U.S. global health assistance, may come under scrutiny as the 112th Congress debates spending levels for ongoing global health programs. NTDs are a group of 17 diseases that are found primarily among the poorest people in 149 countries and territories. Estimates indicate that some 2 billion people are at risk of contracting an NTD, of whom more than 1 billion people are afflicted with one or more. Roughly 534,000 people are believed to be killed by an NTD annually.

Although these diseases are concentrated among the world’s poor, population shifts and climate change increase the vulnerability of the United States to some of these diseases, particularly Chagas disease and dengue. While blood centers test for Chagas, some health experts believe that several cases remain undiagnosed in the United States and that Chagas stands as an undetected cause of heart disease and stroke. Some observers are concerned about scientists’ expectations that mosquitoes capable of spreading dengue fever are gradually spreading across the United States, particularly because no vaccine or treatment exists for this disease. In addition, travelers from industrialized countries are increasingly contracting NTDs such as schistosomiasis while engaged in tourism. These cases are usually identified once tourists develop severe, acute infection or other unusual problems.

Proponents support funding research on and treatment for NTDs because it is a cost-effective way of making a significant health impact. Roughly 90% of all NTDs are easy to treat with drugs that cost less than $2 per dose and need to be taken only once or twice annually. This means that all people at risk of contracting an NTD worldwide can be treated for less than $2 billion over the next five years. With consistent treatment and control, several NTDs are being eliminated in various parts of the world, especially in Latin America, and guinea worm disease is on the cusp of eradication, meaning there is no risk of contracting the disease.

Some groups argue that the United States should increase funding for NTD programs to improve global health and advance domestic capacity to detect NTD cases that may arise, particularly for diseases like dengue and Chagas. Other groups maintain that countries like Brazil, China, and India that have received support for eliminating NTDs should play a greater role in addressing the health challenge, particularly as their own economies exhibit strong growth. The 112
th Congress may debate funding much of the President’s FY2011 budget, which includes $155 million for the NTD Program, as well as upcoming FY2012 budget levels. The 112th Congress will likely weigh calls for greater spending on NTDs with other challenges, such as streamlining foreign and global health assistance to make them more effective and efficient, particularly in light of efforts to reduce federal spending.

Date of Report: January 21, 2011
Number of Pages: 59
Order Number: R41607
Price: $29.95

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