May is global health month! Now, you might be thinking, what does global health have to do with me, and why should I care? Well, the reality is global health is America’s health. As Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said at the unveiling of the new HHS Global Health Strategy, “Health is an issue which aligns the interests of the countries around the world. If we can limit the spread of pandemics, all people benefit. A new drug developed on one continent can just as easily cure sick people on another. A safe global food and drug supply chain will mean better health for every country.”
In the U.S., this is exactly what we are working towards. U.S.-based scientists and researchers collaborate with government agencies, private research companies, and international organizations through public-private partnerships to develop new tools and technologies to fight disease both at home and abroad. In many ways, the U.S. is leading the way in terms of research and development for new tools in global health and infectious disease. In the 2012 G-Finder report, a five year review of neglected disease research and development by Policy Cures,the National Institutes of Health (NIH)continue to be the largest single funder of neglected disease research and development. NIH funding outranks that from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, industry, and other European donor countries.
Given the current global economic crisis and the challenges faced by U.S. policymakers, some might jump to the conclusion that this isn’t where the U.S. should invest its precious resources. Not so fast! First of all, U.S. foreign aid is less than one percent of all federal government spending, and the money that the U.S. invests in NIH research in infectious disease is going to create high-level U.S. jobs. In Research!America’s “Top 10 Reasons Why the U.S. Should Invest in Global Health R&D,” they note that “64% of every dollar the U.S. government spends on global health R&D goes to supporting jobs for U.S.-based researchers and product developers and building and improving U.S. research and technological capacity.” Furthermore, the U.S. is at risk of losing its competitive edge in science and research to countries like China that are investing heavily in vaccine and other research.
It’s not just about jobs, though. The world is becoming increasingly smaller as international travel rises and new pathogens are constantly on the move. Infectious diseases do not respect international borders. We have seen this with SARS, avian influenza, and dengue fever, all of which made it to U.S. soil. U.S. researchers and epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) practice monitoring and surveillance for the threat of new infections in the U.S. Our ability to control and fight these diseases relies on the longstanding investment that the U.S. makes in research and development in global health and infectious diseases.
The benefits of U.S. investment in tropical diseases are humanitarian, diplomatic, and economic. We cannot afford to rest on our laurels and wait for the next disease to cross U.S. borders. The infectious disease and global health work being done by the NIH, the CDC, the Department of Defense (DoD), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is essential to ensuring a healthy world and a healthy America.