“Its all about the Benjamin’s baby” a popular saying from a song that I feel couldn’t resonate more in the campaign for Neglected Tropical Disease advocacy. This is because NTDS affect more than 1 billion people worldwide, almost exclusively in poverty-stricken countries. It’s the conditions of poverty that create an environment where these people are extremely susceptible to NTD. The majority of them can be easily prevented, treated, and cured. The medications for many of these diseases are even free which pharmaceutical companies donate. Yet, we continue to see very little action to use these resources that are so readily available. The seven main NTDS are Ascariasis, Hookworm, Lymphatic Filariasis, Onchocerciasis, Schistosomiasis, Trachoma, and Trichuriasis; devastating illness that are receiving very little attention from policy makers. Now I do have a couple of suspicions why this may be the case and it goes beyond the idea that some people can’t pronounce the names. This all goes back to my dear friend Benjamin Franklin, not the real guy, but the famous one that is printed on all the $100 bills.
You may be saying right about now that Neglected Tropical Diseases are not the only public health causes that are underfunded or receive an extreme lack of attention. But I do want to bring up what I mentioned before…NTDS are diseases of the poor. This sets it aside from other cases such as Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer, HIV/Aids, Malaria, and Tuberculosis, which do affect the poor, but they also do not discriminate against the rich. This brings up a lot of social issues that revolves around funding for Global Health Diseases. Because once an illness strikes the part of the population who controls the money they would do what is necessary to lobby for attention and funding from government officials and even Not-Profit Organizations. So what happens when NTDS do not affect a significant portion of the wealthy class? Well look no further that its name, these diseases become NEGLECTED! From what I have seen groups such as The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Disease are trying to frame these illness in a way that push not only the moral interest of developed countries but their economic interests as well. I would even like to argue that it is not so much the lack of mortality rates that NTDS have in the Global Burden of Disease that has caused its low priority, it is that it doesn’t affect the people who have the money to make a difference.
The way that NTDS have been frame is in the following: Providing treatment for NTDS will target the main areas such as health, economy, and education. You see because NTDS are “mostly caused by poverty and are the causes for persistent poverty” targeting these illness will directly affect the lives of everyone in the community. In the area of education this will mean that children would have to miss school less because of these debilitating illness and the overall education level for these people will rise. Also in the field of economy, a percentage of the population that was not available to work because for example their “elephantitis” leg didn’t allow them to walk very far will now have the opportunity to seek jobs and employment. A healthier population will positively affect the economy and social well being of the people. I feel more work needs to be done to ensure that clean safer water is available, de-worming and mass medication programs are initiated, and more health clinics are equipped with surgical tools necessary to treat NTDS.
In the last couple of years there has been a movement to increase funding for NTDS as seen in the Bush Administration that allocated $350 million, the Clinton Global Initiative with $30 millions, and now Obama’s Global Health Initiative which will have a focus on NTDS is a positive step forward. The amount of money obviously does not compare to the amount of funding other diseases are receiving but it is a start that we have to continue to push forward. I think it’s about time we start to invest more heavily on Human Capital, targeting areas that affect worker productivity and the education of children. Right now at this moment the only thing that is stopping the eradication of some NTDS and maybe even poverty itself in the developing world is money or the lack thereof.