By Michelle K. Brooks, Policy Director, Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases
As President Obama’s second term begins to take shape and new faces assume new leadership roles, many in Washington are trying to gauge what will happen to global health. As recently highlighted in a blog posted by Heather Ignatius at PATH, President Obama began his first term with gusto as he rolled out his Global Health Initiative (GHI). The initiative, which included specific goals for a variety of disease programs and overarching themes such as country ownership, empowerment of women and girls and health system strengthening, was met with great enthusiasm in the global health community and abroad. However, funding became a major roadblock as Congress struggled with budgetary pressures and, at times, rightly (or wrongly) failed to see the benefit to a “whole of government approach.”
In his State of the Union address, President Obama addressed his commitment to serving the global community.
“In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day. So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades by connecting more people to the global economy; by empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve, and helping communities to feed, and power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation, which is within our reach.”
The President also discussed efforts to increase research and development funding by investing more in science and technology. These opportunities would not only decrease the unemployment rate but would exhibit our nation’s ability to serve the larger public through global health concerns.
As for Neglected Tropical Diseases…
The USAID NTD control program, which began in fiscal year (FY) 2006 under then President George W. Bush, initially benefitted under GHI. The Obama Administration included NTDs in its list of goals and targets for GHI and dramatically increased its funding.
Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs): Reduce the prevalence of 7 NTDs by 50 percent among 70 percent of the affected population, contributing to: (1) the elimination of onchocerciasis in Latin America by 2016; (2) the elimination of lymphatic filariasis globally by 2020; and (3) the elimination of leprosy. (GHI Target)
Despite the gains made from the increased funds for NTD control and elimination – an increase in pharmaceutical companies’ drug donations, USAID expanding to 20 countries – the Administration unexpectedly cut the NTD program budget in its FY 2013 request. The NTD community reacted and, Congress responded lauding the NTD Program’s success and approving $125 million for the program in Senate Appropriations Committee…
So, where does that leave NTDs? We think in good shape (despite sequestration)! While not without some ups and downs, on the whole the Administration continues to support the principles behind NTD control and elimination, namely its cost-effectiveness, its proven success, its role in poverty reduction and its contribution to global health diplomacy. And, we hope that as the Office of Global Health Diplomacy ramps up at the Department of State, that NTDs will remain on the President’s agenda.