UK Parliamentarians call attention to Neglected Tropical Diseases during recent debates

uk-parliament

This blog post was originally published on the Sabin Vaccine Institute website.  

Earlier this month the United Kingdom’s Houses of Parliament met on two separate occasions to discuss global health priorities  with debates on global health research and development and health systems strengthening. These debates occurred at a crucial time in the Parliament’s calendar as the UK draws closer to the end of this parliamentary session (2010 – 2015) and moves forward towards the General Election in May 2015. It is one of the last few opportunities for parliamentarians to raise awareness of key global health issues before a new Government and parliament is voted in during the spring of 2015.

Baroness Helene Hayman, Board Trustee at the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Vice-chair of the UK’s All- Party Parliamentary Group on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs); and Jeremy Lefroy, Member of Parliament (MP) and Board Trustee for Sabin Foundation Europe, raised important points on the role of NTD control and elimination in alleviating poverty and needless suffering in these parliamentary discussions, highlighting successes to date and the challenges that lie ahead.

On Monday December 8th, following the release of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Tuberculosis report on Global Health Research and Development, the UK parliament’s House of Lords hosted a debate on research and development for tuberculosis, and the UK’s broader global health research agenda.

Baroness Hayman began by congratulating the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global TB on their recent report titled, Dying for a Cure: Research and Development in Global Health. She applauded the report’s recognition of the 1.4 billion people who suffer from NTDs and called for increased research for new tools to combat these diseases, highlighting the significant impact of vaccines in combating these diseases.

“[The report] has recognized that NTDs are diseases not only born of poverty but which create poverty,” she said. “They undermine education, employment, health—all the opportunities that would allow people to claw their way out of poverty. Therefore, combating the diseases of the poor, including the big three (HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria), is an essential element of the fight against poverty and for social and economic development.”

“For some of those diseases, we already have treatments for which we need more resources — for example, for mass drug administration for soil-borne helminth diseases,” argued Baroness Hayman. “But we still desperately need to develop better medicines, smarter diagnostics and, above all, vaccines if we are to make progress.”

Given the success of investments (including from the UK Government) in to product development partnerships (PDPs) such as Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative and PATH, in producing a number of new tools to combat diseases as well as filling a robust pipeline of candidates for clinical trials in recent years, Baroness Hayman called on the Department for International Development (DFID) to not only increase its budget to further support global health research and development (R&D) but also that continued support and greater investment be directed to  PDPs. PDPs, an innovative model of research that combines private, public and philanthropic partnerships to help develop and progress research candidates in the most efficient way possible, have proven themselves to be an excellent R&D model that is channeling results from investments.

Baroness Hayman also recognized that new tools for NTDs will play a vital role alongside the scale up of delivery of existing NTD treatments to help us achieve global goals in control and elimination of these diseases.

Baroness Hayman ended her comments with two final pleas to the UK Government. The first, to increase their commitment, and the resources they devote, to the “vital work of PDPs.” The second, “to not neglect the importance of the research that can take place in the countries and the communities where diseases are themselves endemic,” commenting on the importance of investing in capacity strengthening of scientists in countries with a high burden of these diseases.

On December 11th, two days after the House of Lords debate, the House of Commons convened for an additional debate following the final reports of the International Development Select Committee (IDC) inquiries on Health Systems Strengthening and Disability. Jeremy Lefroy MP, urged Parliament and the UK Government to continue to prioritize NTD efforts in the areas of health systems strengthening and disability.

In his comments, Jeremy Lefroy references the importance of integrated disease programs in Tanzania which have helped maximize the efficiency of health systems.

“This programme tackles neglected tropical diseases,” he explained. “Instead of looking at only one—lymphatic filariasis, for instance, or worms—it is tackling four of those debilitating diseases alongside each other.

In other parts of the world we find the use of pooled funds—for example, pooled health funds in South Sudan and Mozambique, the development partners for health in Kenya and the health transition fund in Zimbabwe. All are excellent examples of people coming together to strengthen health systems locally, showing that it is not simply about one person making their one vertical intervention, but everyone working to bring the money together and make the best use of it.”

Jeremy Lefroy also emphasized the importance of prevention for controlling and eliminating NTDs and malaria.

“[NTDs] affect the poorest people on this planet—something like 1.4 billion people in the course of a year.” He said. “In fact, NTDs not only affect the poorest people and cause morbidity and sometimes mortality, but they often cause disability. And they are eminently curable, or at least eminently preventable, often by very cheap interventions.

That is why I was thrilled that the last Government decided to make NTDs a priority, and this Government, through the London declaration on NTDs in January 2012, has continued that work, providing, I think, £240 million in total, including the money committed by the last Government, over a four-year period. I ask the Minister to ensure that that commitment to the prevention and treatment of NTDs is continued, because it has a huge impact on disability and the prevention of disability.”

As we draw closer to the end of the current set of Millennium Development Goal and global discussions on what happens next through the Post 2015 development agenda, these parliamentary discussions on global health issues in many countries, including those like the UK who are key champions for NTDs, will play a critical role in building the essential political will to increase efforts to reach global NTD goals. We hope that these discussions will also continue in other countries to stimulate further global discussion on recognizing the milestone achievements we have reached so far as well as what more must be done to end these diseases for once and for all.

To read the full transcript of the House of Lords debate, click here. To read the full transcript of the House of Commons debate, click here.

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A Path Appears: Reviewing Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s New Book

 

a path appearsNicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn set out to investigate “how one can do a better job of making a difference, how one can help institute effective change” in their new book A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity. The husband-and-wife team traveled the world to view different approaches to accelerating progress against poverty.

Reporting from rural West Virginia to the urban slums of Kenya, Kristof and WuDunn educate readers on challenges ranging from gang violence to sex trafficking to neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) like intestinal worms, trachoma and onchocerciasis. In an interview with National Public Radio about the book, Kristof highlighted NTDs as an example of an issue where incredible progress has been made – and where we have reason to hope even more can be done:

“I spent several decades covering these stories and, over that time, you really do see progress [being made]. I mean, when I first traveled around in Africa, for example, I was really struck by the blindness everywhere. River blindness, trachoma, so many middle-age people who were unproductive and could not help. In these days…people are not going blind anymore. So it sure feels to me as if there’s progress, but we just need to accelerate that.”

The result is a book that is equal parts a guide to domestic and international poverty, a thoughtful reflection on the nature of altruism and the state of modern charity, and a call to action for everyone to do what they can to make a difference – in short, a textbook of the “emerging science of how best to make a difference,” as they put it.

Kristof and WuDunn emphasize that everyone can make a tangible impact on the world’s poor, advising readers to evaluate charities carefully to choose organizations who can do the most with their dollars.

“What possible good could one measly donation do?” the authors ask rhetorically. Their answer: “The truth is that in recent years it has become clear that modest sums can help overcome disease and ease malnutrition…saving lives and attacking the cycle of poverty.”

Urging readers to join the movement for “effective altruism,” they highlight a number of charities who are exceptionally effective at fighting poverty – including a number of organizations focused on treating and preventing NTDs, including Helen Keller International, the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, Deworm the World, and the Carter Center.

The authors are particularly keen to point out the impact of NTD treatment beyond its immediate health benefits:

“African schools tend to have high absenteeism, partly because kids are frequently sick, and deworming reduced rates of absenteeism by a quarter” in one study, they explain. Even more striking, researchers have found that “the cost of getting one more child into the school system for a year by deworming was $3.50…The next cheapest way was paying for school uniforms, which cost about $100 per extra child brought into the school system.”

Kristof and WuDunn remind readers that public health threats like NTDs “don’t just kill people, they also impose a kind of tax on everyone,” from reducing school attendance to sapping children of the energy they need to learn. Thus, treating NTDs is one example of an intervention proven to make an impact in breaking the cycle of poverty.

Taking a broader view of the “path to opportunity,” Kristof and WuDunn urge readers to couple their charitable giving with advocacy. “Not all problems can be solved by donations…We also need to hold governments – our own and others – accountable for doing their share,” they write.

We’re happy to see the authors urge people to get more involved. The END7 campaign pairs grassroots fundraising – 100% of which goes to NTD treatment programs to fill funding gaps – with grassroots advocacy aimed at raising the profile of NTDs on the global health and international development agenda.

Kristof and WuDunn conclude “This should be a remarkably hopeful time to be alive.”

“Crippling diseases like leprosy, guinea worm, and polio are on their way out…On our watch in the next few decades, we have a chance to eliminate the conditions – illiteracy, famine, parasitic disease, and the most abject poverty – that have shaped the majority of human existence.”

A Path Appears is an uplifting primer on innovative approaches to fighting poverty. We recommend it to anyone interested in learning how they can be more effective in their effort to make a difference — perfect for that hard-to-shop-for humanitarian on your holiday list!

The representatives on the END7 Student Advisory Board will also be reading the book over their winter break to prepare for a virtual book club meeting in January, the same month that a documentary series based on the book will premiere on PBS – a perfect kick-off to another semester of advocacy and fundraising to advance one poverty solution close to our hearts!

Congress Approves $100 Million for NTD Funding!

 

This spring, the END7 campaign launched an advocacy action to help to fight cuts to the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Program. Thousands of supporters spoke out by sending a message to Chairwoman Kay Granger and Ranking Member Nita Lowey, of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, urging them to maintain NTD funding at $100 million.

We were very happy to hear that Congress approved $100 million for NTD funding in fiscal year (FY) 2015 and the President signed the budget this week! END7 is grateful for the thousands of supporters who took action. This is a huge success for the NTD community and the half a billion children who suffer from NTDs.

This victory underscores a growing bipartisan effort to prioritize global health and NTD spending within the U.S budget, and a growing awareness that treating NTDs is critical to ending extreme poverty. Every dollar spent on NTD treatment contributes to the success of other development efforts including maternal and child health, nutrition, education, water, sanitation and hygiene. And it costs less than 50 cents to treat a child for all seven of the most common NTDs, making it one of the best buys in public health.

The $100 million allocated to USAID’s NTD Program will bolster global efforts to control and eliminate the seven most common NTDs by 2020. In the past eight years, the NTD Program has delivered more than one billion NTD treatments to people around the world. And thanks to renewed support from Congress, USAID will be able to reach even more people in 2015.

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