Guest Opinion: Dr. Peter Hotez
Dr. Peter Hotez, Distinguished
Research Professor at The
George Washington University
and member of the Fogarty
President Obama has sent an important message to the world that the United States is committed to strengthening global health initiatives around the world. This is particularly important in the fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
For far too long, these devastating, debilitating and deadly diseases have been neglected. The president says that under his watch, they will be neglected no more.
TDs afflict more than 1.4 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day. These parasitic and bacterial infections trap their victims in a vicious cycle of poverty and disease.
Yet, successful and cost-effective treatments exist to end the suffering. For approximately 50 cents a person a year we can treat the seven most common NTDs that account for 90 percent of the NTD burden. It's why treating NTDs is often referred to as a best buy in public health.
Treating NTDs also strengthens our global health systems. Research shows that NTD control promotes and improves the efficacy of immunizations, vitamin and bed net distribution and maternal and child health programs.
In fact, a three-year, multi-country study found that integrated interventions delivered through the community-directed treatment approach doubled the coverage rate for malaria treatment and bed net usage when combined with treatment for just one NTD, onchocerciasis (river blindness).
The president was correct in declaring that "the U.S. global health investment is an important component of the national security 'smart power' strategy, where the power of America's development tool—especially proven, cost-effective health care initiatives—can build the capacity of government institutions and reduce the risk of conflict before it gathers strength."
In January, Global Network Ambassador and former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and I made the case in a scientific journal article for the new administration to engage in medical diplomacy as a critical piece of its foreign policy agenda.
Defining medical diplomacy as "winning the hearts and minds of people in less fortunate areas of the world by exporting medical care, expertise and personnel to those who need it most," we said strengthening U.S. efforts to eliminate NTDs would help end the cycle of poverty in areas of conflict throughout the globe and promote peace and economic prosperity.
Dr. Hotez is a Distinguished Research Professor at The George Washington University and a member of the Fogarty advisory board.