WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, May 10, 2006, the nation’s leading professional group in the field of tropical medicine announced its support of a major initiative that encourages the development of treatments for neglected diseases.
The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene joined U.S. Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) at an event promoting legislation introduced by Senators Brownback and Joe Lieberman (D-CT). The Elimination of Neglected Diseases Act of 2006 encourages pharmaceutical companies to invest in developing treatments for neglected diseases.
Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, an expert in the field of tropical medicine and ASTMH member, praised Senators Brownback and Lieberman on behalf of the Society for introducing this important legislation. Dr. Hotez noted that ten million children in developing countries die each year as a result of infectious and parasitic diseases. These children account for almost all – 91% - of the children who die annually.
ASTMH is a society of 3,300 professionals engaged in research and treatment of infectious and tropical diseases. ASTMH has long recognized the need for incentives, research and vaccines for global and neglected diseases.
The World Health Organization estimates that 1.3 million children die from malaria alone – some estimates indicate the actual number is between 2 and 3 million. Malaria is a dramatic example, but by no means the only neglected disease that this legislation will help. A landmark component of the legislation is that it addresses a group of lesser known neglected tropical diseases, which are equal in importance to diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
Sometimes known as “the biblical diseases” because of their mention in the Bible, Talmud, and other ancient texts, the neglected tropical diseases disable populations on a massive scale in regions of rural poverty of the developing world. To diminish childhood deaths in the developing world it will be important to develop vaccines and therapies for diarrheal disease pathogens that selectively afflict children and vaccines and therapies against respiratory disease agents that cause fatal pneumonia in infants and children in less developed regions. These include diseases such as schistosomiasis, hookworm, Kala-azar, elephantiasis, river blindness, African sleeping sickness, leprosy, and Chagas disease.
New estimates indicate that these diseases kill an estimated 530,000 people, but more importantly cause disability in millions more. Studies show that these neglected diseases by virtue of their unique ability to impair childhood growth and development, birth outcome from pregnancy, and worker productivity, not only occur in the setting of poverty but also promote poverty. In addition, these diseases actually promote susceptibility to AIDS and malaria.
Unfortunately, our technical capacity to develop new health products for neglected diseases has outpaced the mechanisms we have in place to fashion new discoveries into drugs, diagnostics and vaccines and then get them to market. The Elimination of Neglected Diseases Act of 2006 specifically addresses this unfortunate circumstance.
ASTMH congratulates Senators Brownback and Lieberman for their vision and thanks them for their commitment to addressing the health disparities for the estimated 1 billion children who live in poverty..