US Investment Saving Lives Around the World

U.S. funding has driven development of new vaccines and medicines.
U.S. funding has driven development of new vaccines and medicines.
Joe DeCapua

A new report says the U.S. government is the world leader when it comes to investing in global health research and development. Over the past 10 years, the U.S. has provided nearly 13 billion dollars for new vaccines, drugs and equipment to fight diseases in developing countries.

The report is called Saving Lives and Creating Impact: Why investing in global health research works. It focuses on five federal agencies between 2000 and 2010: The National Institutes of Health, USAID, the Department of Defense, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration.

“The global Health Technologies Coalition is a group of nearly 40 nonprofits that have all come together to address some of the greatest barriers facing the development of new vaccines, new drugs, new diagnostics and other products. And looking at the policy solutions that the U.S. government can apply in order to accelerate and advance the development of those critically needed new products,” said Kaitlin Christenson, director of The Global Health Technologies Coalition, which released the report.

The coalition is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Having an effect

Christenson said U.S. investment in global health is having a “true impact” on the developing world.

“We’ve seen that over the last decade the U.S. government has funded nearly half of the total global investment in research. And that that investment is translated to new products that are saving lives around the world,” she said.

One example is a new meningitis vaccine. The report estimates the MenAfriVac vaccine will prevent nearly 440,000 cases of meningitis over the next 10 years. There’s also a new test to diagnose tuberculosis. The Xpert MTB/RIF test could triple the number of people diagnosed with drug resistant TB.

Competing interests

Christenson acknowledged the report’s being released at a time when President Obama and congress are debating where to spend and where to cut.

“In this era where we really are under a constrained economic environment everything is at risk. No, we certainly never want to pit one important program against another. What we would hope is that policymakers see the true impact of the investment,” he said.

However, Christenson said the coalition is not just worried about budget cuts. It warns against flatlined funding where no increase in funding is approved.

“There are lots of tools that are stuck in research phases because we don’t have sufficient funding. For one example, what are called neglected tropical diseases, the U.S. investment is typically at the very early stages of research, but not at the later stages where we’re actually taking that early science and translating it into a product that works,” she said.

The report says investing in global health also has domestic benefits. It says for every dollar the government spends on global health research and development, 64 cents goes directly to U.S.-based researchers.

Christenson said global health is a bipartisan issue--something both democrats and Republicans can agree to fund.

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