Nearly 11% of the world’s population does not have access to clean drinking water. This represents a tremendous burden on global health, as almost 2 million children die from water-borne illnesses each year. Improvements in sanitation and the availability of clean water are essential to improve health around the world.
America has been a leader in clean water legislation and water-borne disease research. The late Paul G. Rogers, Research!America’s former chair, was a key leader in the passage of environmental legislation, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, during his tenure in Congress. Today, American investment in research is providing new therapies and prevention strategies for water-borne illnesses like schistosomiasis and Guinea worm disease, both neglected tropical diseases. Learn more about neglected tropical diseases here.
Here are some interesting facts for World Water Day 2013:
- Did you know that agriculture accounts for roughly 80%of the world’s water consumption?
- For every $1 invested in water and sanitation, an average of $4 is returned in increased productivity. (Source: WHO, Geneva, 2012: page 4)
- Every year, around 60 million children in the developing world are born into households without access to sanitation. (UN Water)
- 443 million school days are lost each year due to water-related diseases.
On December 13 and 14, the global health community gathered at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York for a conference called “Lives in the Balance: Delivering Medical Innovations for Neglected Patients and Populations.” Hosted by Mount Sinai Global Health, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), and Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), the conference aimed to spur innovation for new tools to combat neglected diseases.
Several key themes emerged from the conference. First, there is a ‘fatal imbalance’ between the burden of neglected disease and medical innovations to combat these illnesses. Neglected diseases affect more than 1.4 billion people worldwide and account for nearly 11% of the global disease burden. In contrast, MSF’s Jean-Herve Bradol, MD, pointed out that of 850 new therapeutic products approved in the past decade, only 4.4% were for neglected diseases. Furthermore, only 1.4% of 148,445 clinical trials were for neglected diseases. To solve this problem, many presenters agreed that there must be a new global framework for global health R&D. A new framework would place an emphasis on public financing and some called for all countries to pledge 0.01% GDP to government-funded R&D.
In addition to reforming the global R&D system, several panelists mentioned the importance of improving access. This means not only improving access to medicines among neglected patients but improving information sharing and access to essential compounds among researchers. The idea of access must also be built into the beginning of the research process. For example, considering storage temperatures or dosage early on in the R&D process will help to ensure that the new tools being developed can be easily utilized in the field.
The conference has put a spotlight on the need for more research to combat neglected diseases. Diseases that once only existed in the developing world are becoming an increasingly large threat in Europe and in the U.S. Cases of multi-drug resistant TB are on the rise, and we need much better treatment options to cure patients. Only two drugs are currently available to treat Chagas disease; both were developed more than 35 years ago, have toxic side effects and are not effective in all patients. It is more important than ever before that governments, philanthropic groups and the private sector come together to help reform the global R&D system, improve access and find new tools to help neglected patients and populations around the world. Many have called this time, these partnerships and current innovations in modern science an unprecedented opportunity for neglected disease R&D. Others are frustrated by the seeming regression in global health due to non transformative “stopgap” efforts, citing drug resistant TB as an example. Both may be right. With unified advocacy to raise awareness and engage political and civic will for NTDs, we can successfully channel both the frustration and the opportunity ahead of us.
Looking back on last week’s AIDS2012 Conference, it is easy to see the impact that Washington, DC, and the proximity to Congress had on the tone of the discussion. Throughout the week-long conference, many of the events, panels, workshops and sessions highlighted the role of federal funding for global health research and development, as well as the impact of actions by Congress on the future of HIV/AIDS research. At Wednesday’s session, “The U.S. Congress and the Global AIDS Epidemic,” former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist led a conversation with Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), showcasing the past and future role of Congress in the effort to end HIV/AIDS.
During his tenure in the Senate, Frist played an important role in securing increased funding for global health initiatives. Throughout the panel discussion, the importance of bipartisan support and the value of research and development were repeated as key themes. As Lee pointed out, having AIDS2012 in DC has “helped to shed a global spotlight on a domestic epidemic,” noting that areas of the U.S. have HIV rates comparable to areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Washington, DC, itself is one example. Lee went on to note that in order to find a cure, resources and support for PEPFAR, the Global Fund and U.S. global health programs are vital.
Rubio noted that he has been pleasantly surprised by the bipartisan support he has seen in Congress concerning global health issues and emphasized that funding for global health and international development is not the cause of the budget deficit. Despite the perception of the public that the number is much higher, foreign aid comprises less than 1% of the U.S. budget.
“If you zeroed out foreign aid,” Rubio said, “it would do nothing for the debt, but it would be devastating not just for the world, but for America’s role in it.”
Concluding that research and development is the way to maintain support and move the HIV/AIDS field forward, Rubio emphasized the importance of developing more affordable, more effective medications, treatments and potential cures.
Following up on this theme, Coons called for continued support and investment in order to “innovate and cure our way out of this,” specifically pointing to vaccines as the future in HIV/AIDS research.
Capping off the conversation with some success stories from the field, Frist and Enzi recalled one of their first trips to Africa and the value of seeing firsthand the impact that antiretrovirals were having on the ground. Pointing to meetings with researchers on this trip, both Enzi and Frist reiterated the importance of investment in research in order to truly make a difference.
The panel discussion was interrupted by individuals advocating for increased rights for sex workers and the repeal of PEPFAR’s anti-prostitution funding restrictions. Regardless of one’s perspective on the impact of this disruption, it reinforces the strength of our nation’s democratic system and in no way compromised the strength of the panelists’ positive message about the importance of the federal role in advancing global health.
Tell your Member of Congress that research to combat HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, neglected tropical diseases and other health threats here and abroad is an economic and humanitarian imperative by visiting our website.
Research!America has come out with a four-part ad series titled: “Nice Save – American Ingenuity Saves Lives.” The ads began running in Politico last week and continue this week; if you live in the D.C. region and ride Metro, you’ll also see these ads appearing on the red line, starting July 9. This global health R&D awareness campaign highlights the success and (sometimes unexpected) payoffs of investing in health and global health research. Please view the ad series and learn how you can make a difference here.