Over the past nine years, USAID’s Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Program has delivered more than 1.3 billion treatments to nearly 600 million people across 32 countries. USAID’s work with NTDs is a shining example of the power of public-private partnerships to leverage existing resources that stretch the impact of U.S. foreign aid dollars. In the FY 2015 budget, Congress funded USAID’s NTD Program at $100 million, demonstrating continued U.S. leadership in global health.
Ahead of Pope Francis’ historic address to the U.S. Congress this Thursday, the Global Network was pleased to host an event celebrating the bipartisan commitment of the U.S. government in the fight against NTDs. The reception, “A Call to Compassion: Spotlight on NTDs,” sought to build further support for the NTD cause among Members of Congress, the Administration, the broader policy community, private sector partners and lay leaders in the Catholic Church.
We were thrilled to welcome Rep.Chris Smith (R-NJ) to speak, along with Reverend Thomas Streit, C.S.C., the Founder of the University of Notre Dame’s Haiti Program, Dr. Ariel Pablos-Méndez, Assistant Administrator for Global Health and Child and Maternal Survival Coordinator at USAID and Dr. Leonard Friedland, Vice President and Director of Scientific Affairs and Public Health for Vaccines in North America at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Reverend Pat Conroy, S.J., Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, concluded the program with a benediction.
We also appreciated the support of our co-sponsors: RTI International, FHI 360, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, GSK, University of Notre Dame’s Eck Institute of Global Health and Advocates for Development Assistance, as well as the coordination received from the Congressional Caucus on Malaria and NTDs — co-chaired by Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) and Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) — and the Congressional Global Health Caucus — co-chaired by Rep. David Reichert (R-WA) and Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN).
Saint Damien of Molokai was a great source of inspiration for the event. St. Damien dedicated the last sixteen years of his life to caring for those with leprosy on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. He eventually succumbed to the disease in 1889 and was canonized in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI. Leprosy is one of 17 NTDs targeted for control or elimination by the World Health Organization.
More than 1.4 billion of the world’s poorest people suffer from NTDs, including 500 million children. These diseases perpetuate poverty by causing blindness, malnutrition, anemia and disfigurement — preventing children from attending school and parents from going to work. Treatment for these diseases can cost as little as 50 cents per person, per year.
Inspired by Pope Francis’ call for Catholic communities to “become islands of mercy in a vast sea of indifference,” a historic conference will be held at the Vatican in May 2016. Sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, the entity that coordinates and promotes the health care work undertaken by the Catholic Church, the conference will focus on “diseases of solidarity” – both rare and neglected tropical diseases. The Global Network is honored to be serving as the official planning partner for the NTD stream of the conference.
NTDs are a pervasive issue, threatening the health of one-fifth of the world’s population. It is a problem that cannot be tackled by one sector working alone. As Pope Benedict XVI said, “Saint Damien teaches us to choose the good fight, not those that lead to division, but those that gather us together in unity.” To see the end of these diseases requires the commitment of politicians, organizations, students, administrators, faith leaders, health care workers — all of us. We are grateful to welcome new partners to the NTD elimination effort and to find new sources of inspiration to sustain this fight.