[WASHINGTON] Proposed US cuts to funding for global health research and development could scupper gains made in tackling diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, warns a report released yesterday (28 February).
The Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC) -- a grouping of non-profit health research organisations -- presented its report at a Congressional briefing. They highlighted the key role of US government bodies in developing vaccines, drugs, diagnostic products and other necessary tools required to tackle global health challenges.
The grouping urged President Barack Obama to not to proceed with cuts to overall global health funding contained in his 2013 fiscal budget, which was lodged with the US Congress on 13 February.
"US policymakers are now faced with a critical choice," the report says.
"In today's dire budget climate, the United States can [either] waver in its support for global health innovation, or see the next generation of lifesaving health tools and products over the finish line."
Despite the economic downturn, the latest Global Funding of Innovation for Neglected Diseases survey says the US remains the biggest government funder of global health research and development, contributing nearly 70 per cent of the global public spend in 2010.
"The US has been a critical partner in advancing new technologies for global health," Kaitlin Christenson, director of the GHTC, told SciDev.Net:
She said the GHTC report, entitled 'Sustaining Progress: Creating US policies to spur global health innovation' lists important breakthroughs made over the past year that would not have been possible without US funding.
"There are some incredible successes that we can point to," Christenson said, pointing to a large-scale trial of a candidate malaria vaccine, published last October, and promising results from a Department of Defense programme looking into candidate vaccines targeting the HIV virus.
"There are some things to be excited about, such as increased funding for the GAVI Alliance and the Global Fund, [but] we are concerned about cuts to other areas," she said.
These include USAID's neglected tropical diseases budget line, which is facing a 25 per cent drop in funding.
Further reductions will take place in real terms if proposals to freeze budgets for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at their 2012 levels go ahead.
Christenson said the report documented historically strong bipartisan support from Congress for health research funding, and that the issue has good public backing.
"Even when budgets are tight, this is not the time to give up that fight," she said.