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Letter to the Editor: NTDs a global health priority

By Cyrus Ghaznavi     2/2/16 9:26pm

I initially became interested in the global impact of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) during a policy course I took at Rice during my sophomore year; the speaker was President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute Peter Hotez, an expert in the field. For the course, I wrote my final paper on the potential for easing U.S.-Iran tensions by cooperating on NTD vaccines in the scientific community (this issue is particularly important to me given that I am an Iranian-American). Though something as intricate as “science diplomacy” may not happen for years to come, an international campaign that seeks to address the global NTD problem is already in place!

END7 is an international advocacy campaign that seeks to raise awareness and funding to eliminate the seven most common NTDs by 2020. Not coincidentally, END7 is a subsidiary of the SVI, so I had been introduced to the campaign by its commander in chief!

NTDs are also known as diseases of poverty that disproportionately affect “the bottom billion” of the global population. Fortunately, it costs only 50 cents to treat and protect an individual from all seven NTDs for a year! Sound too good to be true? You’d better believe it — pharmaceutical companies have already donated the medications, so END7 raises funds just to get the drugs where they are most needed (aka “shipping and handling”). Because the drugs are effectively free, every dollar donated to the campaign leverages $26 worth of support!

The U.S. is the world’s largest NTD treatment funder; it supports 25 countries via the U.S. Agency for International Development. In the past 10 years, USAID has delivered more than 1.3 billion (that’s with a “b!”) neglected disease treatments to 600 million people! Unfortunately, the NTD budget is at risk of being cut every year. With my Rice peers and the END7 community, I urge President Obama to establish a global health legacy by increasing USAID neglected tropical disease funding by 25 percent to $125 million for fiscal year 2017.

To quote Ariel Pablos-Mendez, assistant administrator for USAID’s Global Health Bureau, “Now is the time for increased investment from countries and donors to ensure that NTD drugs can and will be provided.  Losing this investment will turn back the clock on progress.”

The question then becomes, “What can we do?” The Rice chapter of END7 was founded in the spring of 2015, and it has been gaining traction fast. As the Vice President of Rice END7, I focus on the policy advocacy side of NTDs by raising awareness for the campaign’s cause. We also have communications and fundraising committees, and every team is always welcoming of new members. It’s as easy as sending us an email. If you want to become involved in fighting NTDs across the globe, you can help us get signatures for our petitions that go to the President and the U.N.; you can help us design fliers and plan events to raise awareness on the Rice campus; you can even join us on our annual trip to Washington, D.C., where we spend a day at Congress lobbying for increased NTD funding!

1 percent of the global health budget. 0.003 percent of the entire federal budget. Seven diseases. The math is clear — NTDs are a global health priority!

Cyrus Ghaznavi

Sid Richardson College

Class of 2017

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