Advocacy, Infectious Diseases

Harnessing the ‘Power of What is Possible’ to End Neglected Tropical Diseases

June 16, 2023

by Guest Contributor

by Bill Simmons, President and CEO, American Leprosy Missions 

This year the U.S. marks 20 years of PEPFAR: the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. American Leprosy Missions (ALM) believes this program lights a path forward for combatting another global health threat: neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

Initiated by George W. Bush in 2003, PEPFAR represents the largest financial commitment from any country devoted to a single disease: $110 billion over 20 years, saving 25 million lives from HIV/AIDS. It is a unique success story both in terms of impact and financial support. As a Greenville-based global health organization, ALM appreciates Senator Lindsey Graham’s advocacy for PEPFAR this year, urging Congress to reauthorize funding. Today, on International Day of the African Child, ALM and our international peers hope to see a similar U.S. commitment applied to NTDs.

A group of twenty conditions impacting over 1.7 billion people, NTDs are among the top four most devastating groups of communicable diseases, frequently resulting in disability, poverty and social stigma. As climate change advances, NTDs are poised to spread beyond tropical and subtropical regions. We’re experiencing this slow shift here in the Southeast, with an increasing awareness of mosquito-borne diseases like the NTD chikungunya.

Hannah (pictured) was treated by ALM for a bad case of Buruli ulcer when the team visited Liberia. Photo by Tom Bradley.

Although many countries managing NTDs response receive PEPFAR support, U.S. funding for these health priorities is vastly different. Congress first designated funds to fight NTDs in 2006, and reached its highest funding point this fiscal year: $114.5 million, compared to PEPFAR’s initial budget of $1.9 billion in FY 2004 and $6.9 billion in FY 2023. Despite U.S. commitments to global milestone documents like the London Declaration on NTDs (2012) and the Kigali Declaration on NTDs (2022), Congress has yet to match those statements with the financial support needed to achieve change. To defeat NTDs, we have to show the same resolve and momentum we’ve demonstrated in PEPFAR.

In his 2023 State of the Union address, President Biden noted PEPFAR’s accomplishments and remarked, “I believe we can do the same with cancer.”

American Leprosy Missions believes we can do the same with NTDs.

These diseases cause untold suffering, but we can meet this challenge with the determination we brought to PEPFAR and see similar success. According to the U.S. Department of State, PEPFAR “shows the power of what is possible.” Let’s harness the power of what is possible to create a world free of neglected tropical diseases!

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