Viruses Treatment Articles

Report: U.S. Funding For Research On Neglected Infectious Diseases Is Very Low

April 24, 2017

A ground-breaking report released reveals that the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which accounts for about 78 percent of the nation's public funding for medical research, spent less than 1 percent of its fiscal year 2007 budget on diseases that are prevalent among more than a quarter of the world's population.

The report from Families USA, the national organization for health care consumers, details for the first time what U.S. research agencies-NIH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-actually spend to combat eight diseases described as "neglected diseases."

"This report makes clear that our nation's support for research on diseases in developing countries is far too low, given the enormous number of people affected by those diseases," Ron Pollack, Executive Director of Families USA, said today.

The eight diseases analyzed in the Families USA report are classified by the scientific community as "neglected infectious diseases" because of their high prevalence in impoverished and marginalized populations in the developing world and because of the limited funds allocated for research on them.

The Families USA report is the first analysis of unduplicated research spending for these diseases. After duplicate funding was eliminated, the report notes that U.S. spending for medical research by the four agencies on the eight neglected infection diseases in fiscal year 2007 totaled $366 million. The report found the following with respect to the amount spent by federal agencies for research on each disease in fiscal year 2007:

- African sleeping sickness: This is a parasitic disease that is spread by the tsetse fly, by blood transfusions, or from mother to fetus, and it is fatal without treatment. It infects an estimated 50,000-70,000 individuals. NIH spent $5.7 million on this disease. No money was spent by CDC, DOD, or USAID.

- Buruli ulcer: This is a disfiguring disease that is caused by the same bacterial family that causes tuberculosis (TB). There is no accurate estimate of the numbers affected, but it is believed to be the third most common mycobacterium infection after TB and leprosy. NIH spent $656,000 on research of Buruli ulcer. Nothing was spent by CDC, DOD, or USAID on this disease.

- Chagas disease: This is a potentially fatal parasitic disease that can cause heart, intestinal, or esophageal damage. Approximately 9 million people are currently infected. NIH spent $11 million on Chagas disease, and nothing was spent by CDC, DOD, or USAID.

- Cholera: This is an acute intestinal infection that is caused by ingesting contaminated food or water. There were approximately 236,000 new cases reported in 2006. NIH spent $15.7 million on cholera; nothing was spent by the other agencies.

- Dengue: This is an infection that is spread by mosquitoes that causes high fever and severe muscle pain; dengue hemorrhagic fever is a fatal complication. Approximately 50 million new cases are estimated to occur each year. NIH spent $26.8 million on dengue; another $2.8 million was spent by CDC and $14 million by DOD.

- Leishmaniasis: This disease is caused by the bite of an infected sandfly, and it can cause severe disfiguring skin lesions as a cutaneous infection, or it can cause fatal injury to internal organs as a visceral infection. Approximately 12 million people are currently infected, with a few rare cases of cutaneous infection report in Oklahoma and Texas. NIH spent $16.7 million on this disease, CDC spent $2.8 million, and DOD spent $6.2 million.

- Malaria: This disease is transmitted by a mosquito bite. It produces high fever, chills, and vomiting, and it can be fatal if untreated. About 247 million new cases of malaria are contracted each year. NIH spent $90.6 million on malaria, while CDC spent $6.5 million, DOD spent $23.1 million, and USAID spent $10 million.

- Tuberculosis (TB): This is a contagious disease that is spread from person to person. If untreated, half of those infected with active TB will die. There were more than 14 million new cases of active TB in 2005. NIH spent $117.3 million on this disease. CDC spent an additional $10 million, and USAID spent $5.4 million.

"Our report demonstrates in detail what we see on a larger scale in annual budgets. Government funding for agencies like NIH and CDC has not kept pace with biomedical research inflation. This shortfall crimps every agency function and eliminates any possible expansion of research on these neglected infection diseases," Pollack said.

"An investment in stamping out disease can aid our own economy by strengthening the economies of other nations, making their societies more stable, and giving us a real return on our medical investment," he said.

"There is no better place for the United States to re-establish its global leadership than in matters of global health," Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) said today. "We live in an increasingly shrinking world; contact between Americans and the rest of the world via infection is increasing every day. The AIDS pandemic was the first shot across our bow; troops coming home from Iraq infected with leishmaniasis is the second shot, and drug-resistant TB strains [is] just over the horizon. The data presented in the report released by Families USA outline current U.S. funding on global diseases that threaten Americans and U.S. interests, and we should increase government funding to combat these threats."

"Families USA's report highlights the continued need to invest in research to eliminate devastating infectious diseases like tuberculosis, which continue to kill millions of people worldwide each year," Peg Willingham, Senior Director, External Affairs, Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation, Rockville, Maryland, said today. "U.S. leadership and funding remain crucial to developing new tools to prevent, diagnose and treat TB and other global killers. Past history shows that tuberculosis increases during economic crises; we should invest now to prevent needless deaths."

Pollack said that, although incidence of these diseases in the U.S. is rare, the threat is truly global.

"More than a quarter of the world's population live in areas that put them at high risk for contracting one or more of these eight diseases," he said, "In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that up to half the world's population is at risk of contracting malaria, and two-fifths is at risk of contracting dengue fever."

The U.S. is the world leader in medical research and development, Pollack noted, and, as the report makes clear, this leadership needs to be strengthened with additional funding.

"Our research spending amounts to less than a penny a day for each person affected by these diseases. We can do better," Pollack said. "Investing in neglected infectious disease research makes sense. It advances our public health and economic interests, and it strengthens our standing in the world."

Families USA is the national organization for health care consumers. It is nonprofit and nonpartisan and advocates for high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans.

Families USA