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Lack of US cash for neglected disease R&D raises fears
  • Lack of US cash for neglected disease R&D raises fears

Copyright: Mark Henley / Panos

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  • Lack of funding leaves world vulnerable to epidemics such as Zika

  • Growing international travel raises risk of diseases spreading globally

  • US agencies urged to use fixed portion of global health budget for R&D

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The lack of US funding to tackle neglected diseases is leaving the world ill-prepared to deal with future and ongoing epidemics such as Zika, a report warns.

In the report, the Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC), a US non-profit that seeks to boost health funding, says US spending on non-emergency research and development (R&D) into neglected diseases fell in 2014. In 2014, the US provided 13 per cent, or US$221 million, less for this compared with its 2009 peak — excluding Ebola funding, the report found.

The United States accounted for 67 per cent of global R&D funding for neglected diseases in 2013, the GHTC points out.

The study comes as the US Congress, which approves health research spending, is mired in partisan gridlock over the US presidential elections. As a result, lawmakers have yet to act on President Barack Obama’s February request for US$1.8 billion in emergency funding to fight Zika.

“Without the right coordination, without the right policies in place, even the most promising innovative technologies will fall flat.”

David Shoultz, PATH

The GHTC launched its report on 18 April in Washington DC, United States. At the event Peter Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in the United States, said that research money approved in response to epidemics is often temporary and dries up quickly.

“Having longer funding would be a game-changer for ensuring [staff] retention and to embark on new projects for diseases that come along,” Hotez said, referring to his experience at the Sabin Vaccine Institute, which he leads.

In the report, the GHTC calls for US agencies to set aside a fixed percentage of their global health budgets for R&D and to coordinate spending. The coalition also urged Congress to not just approve more R&D funding for epidemics, but to also make such funding a long-term financial commitment.

This is in the interests of the US government as well as developing countries, said Hotez, as neglected tropical diseases now affect 12 million people in the United States.

With growing international travel, infectious diseases are much more likely to spread globally, making it important to provide care quickly and widely, the report says.

David Shoultz of PATH, a non-profit organisation focused on global health innovation that houses the GHTC’s secretariat, said research and innovation will be unable to provide all the answers if policymaking does not keep up with emerging epidemics.

“Without the right coordination, without the right policies in place, even the most promising innovative technologies will fall flat,” he said at the event.

Shoultz said the UN Sustainable Development Goals — namely Goal 3, which calls for an end to neglected disease epidemics — could provide an “organising mechanism” to guide policy and spending.


References

Marissa Chmiola and others Achieving a bold vision for global health: Policy solutions to advance global health R&D (Global Health Technologies Coalition, April 2016)
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