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Obama Administration Called on to Expand Treatment for Neglected Diseases

The Obama Administration is being asked to expand the Global Health Initiative to treat more so-called neglected diseases.

The call for greater coverage comes from the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi).

DNDi Executive Director Jana Armstrong says neglected diseases “are a group of diseases that affect primarily, almost exclusively, really, marginalized poor population in developing countries. They’re diseases that are debilitating or killing. They are diseases that have been historically kind of ignored.”

They don’t affect the large numbers of people that diseases like malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS do, Armstrong says.

“However, they do affect over a billion people in the developing world.”

Global Health Initiative

“First of all, it’s the only initiative of its kind. So, we don’t want to criticize the fact that there is a Global Health Initiative and that neglected tropical diseases feature within that GHI because there aren’t others that do that,” Armstrong says.

Doctors Without Borders and DNDi are concerned, she says,because the GHI aims to treat only seven of the 14 diseases officially listed as neglected by the World Health Organization.

“If you limit to seven of the total, you’re not looking at the whole picture,” she says.

She says there are tools available to save many lives, adding it may cost only $70 to $100 to save a life.

“Some of these diseases that are not in the Global Health initiative are deadly diseases, like Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness,” she says.

Is it just a matter of money?

“No, I don’t think so. I think they started with seven and it’s great that they started with those seven in 2006…. It’s been quite successful…. It was a logical seven to start with. Build on your success. Leverage that,” she says.

But the other diseases are also prevalent in developing countries and need to be addressed, she says.

The current budget within the Global Health Initiative for neglected diseases is $65 million dollars, says Armstrong, and President Obama has proposed raising that to $150 million.

She describes that as a “huge increase” over last year “and in tough economic times we’re all very appreciative of that.

“Even if you are going to add to that budget ($150 million), you’re talking about maybe $10 million. It’s not outrageous numbers…. You can make a big impact with not huge numbers,” says Armstrong.

Encouraging response

“We’re receiving very positive responses,” she says, “at the administration level, at the USAID level, at NIH (National Institutes for Health) and at the congressional level. I really want to stress that. People know that this is an issue. They’re not opposed to doing it and we’ll see what happens,” she says.