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Peter Hotez Responds to US President’s Initiative to Combat NTDs

The following is a statement from Peter Hotez, Editor in Chief of PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, and President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, in reaction to President Bush’s announcement yesterday of a new global initiative to combat neglected tropical diseases.

This initiative will make a total of $350 million available over five years to provide integrated treatment of more than 300 million people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and target seven major NTDs: lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis); schistosomiasis (snail fever); trachoma (eye infection); onchocerciasis (river blindness); and three soil-transmitted helminthes (STHs – hookworm, roundworm, whipworm).

Peter Hotez writes:

"The announcement today by President Bush provides great hope to the millions of people worldwide who are deeply suffering from crippling neglected tropical diseases. Many of the afflicted are the world’s poorest citizens who have no where else to turn for treatment. With this announcement, President Bush has sent a strong signal that the United States cares deeply about those who are so often forgotten. This Initiative says that these diseases should be neglected no more.

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are the most common afflictions of people living on less than $2 per day in developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and tropical regions of the Americas, NTDs are a primary reason for keeping people in extreme poverty due to their adverse impact on child health and development, pregnancy outcome and worker productivity. Just one disease – chronic hookworm infection in childhood – reduces future wage earnings by an extraordinary 43%.

Fortunately, unlike some other global diseases, many NTDs can be effectively treated. In 2005, the leaders of the major public-private partnerships devoted to fighting NTDs, together with a new NTD Department at the World Health Organization, designed a package of drugs known as the “rapid impact package” that treats the seven most common NTDs for a modest 50 cents per person per year. The Global Network for NTD Control now administers these packages throughout the affected regions. In 2007, the partners of the Global Network administered 34 million treatments in Africa.

The announcement today could lead to the treatment of almost 30 percent of the people at risk in Africa for the NTDs. This is an important first step towards the Global Network’s goal of launching a $1-2 billion global NTD fund. Such a fund would provide almost all of the coverage needed for the poorest people in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as the at-risk populations in Asia and the Americas. The NTD fund would be an important topic for the upcoming Group of Eight (G8) meeting in Hokkaido, Japan this summer.

If the President’s Global Initiative is enacted, access to these proven effective treatments could increase ten-fold – saving millions of people from the suffering of these painful and sometimes deadly diseases.

The Global Network and its partners look forward to working with the Administration and Congress in supporting this groundbreaking initiative. It is an investment that not only reduces suffering, but will help lift the world’s poor out of devastating poverty."

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