One of Sabin Vaccine Institute and Neglected Tropical Diseases advocate Dr. Peter Hotez‘ consistent messages in his lobbying efforts for more globalized engagement in treating and eradicating NTDs is that there needs to be less rhetoric and more action by governments and health organizations. In an effort to lay out an action plan fighting NTDs, a new concept and policy framework recently published in PLOS NTDs “outlines concrete steps for the global development community as it works to synthesize health goals with economic, environmental and social priorities,” according to a recent Sabin press release. Dubbed “blue marble health,” the new framework specifically targets the role that the Group of 20 (G20) nations can take in leveraging their own resources to tackle NTDs, which in turn will dramatically impact poverty reduction efforts.
Dr. Hotez, the author of the new framework, recently commented on why the G20 specifically must be exhorted to do more in the fight against NTDs — and why an action plan like this one is needed: “Blue marble health connects countries worldwide by recognizing that extreme poverty is a fundamental underlying factor for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), regardless of where they occur. G20 countries have an exceptional opportunity to embrace NTD control as a cross-cutting strategy and achieve long-lasting, inclusive prosperity within their societies and lower-income countries.”
It is widely accepted that the continued rise and steady health burden caused by NTDs in the world’s poorest and most marginalized countries (with populations where the majority of people live on less than $1.25 a day) continues to go unaddressed based on the implicit notion that these cultures are not worth the investment of resources. However, Dr. Hotez’ new framework article also points out that there is a hidden burden of disease among impoverished people in emerging markets and wealthier nations, such as Indonesia, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), and even in both Eastern and Southern Europe as well as the southern United States — all in a bid to raise awareness of NTDs worldwide and concentrate G20 efforts to eradicate disease wherever they exist.
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How Blue Marble Health Works
The crux of blue marble health is to compel G20 nations to focus on two major components of fighting NTDs. First, is to expand the scope of activity into which diseases are being targeted. The Sabin press release points out that, “new information from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 highlights the urgency to expand global control and elimination programs to include leishmaniasis, dengue, and food-borne trematode infections.” As a result, the new framework seeks to increase awareness of these three diseases, along with other diseases considered to be NTDs.
In addition to expanding the portfolio of NTD focus, the new framework also underscores the need for more research an development into vaccines and treatments, pointing out that while “[e]xisting medicines for the seven most common NTDs are safe, effective, and inexpensive,” new tools and diagnostics need to be developed for other NTDs that have little if any treatment options. Blue marble identifies G20 countries as well-positioned to foster growth in vaccine development.
The blue marble health initiative goes on to list the following areas as key action points for the G20 participants:
Vaccine Diplomacy: Promoting scientific collaboration between institutions from countries regardless of their ideological perspectives can foster essential dialogue on these life-threatening diseases and lead to new, effective interventions.
NTD Integration: Strong linkages exist between NTDs and nearly every major development priority. Efforts to control and eliminate should be incorporated into existing programs working to improve maternal and child health; water, sanitation and hygiene; hunger and nutrition; education; and combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
Health of Girls and Women: This population is especially disproportionately affected – indeed NTDs may be the most common afflictions of girls and women living in poverty.
NCDs: NTDs contribute to a hidden but substantial proportion of the world’s non-communicable diseases.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Controlling NTDs will serve as a catalyst for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and a broad set of issues likely to be addressed in the new SDGs. It will be essential to incorporate NTDs into this framework.
As BioNews Texas recently reported in an exclusive article profiling BCM’s Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, more investment is desperately needed into vaccine development. To this end, Dr. Hotez points out that developed nations — particularly G20 nation members — have the maximum resources to make a fast, substantial impact on R&D for NTDS: “G20 countries are well-positioned to usher in a new era of enduring economic growth by making the cost-effective investment in people’s health, he said, adding, Now is the time to leverage their power and resources to bring about the next wave of successes in NTD control and elimination.