U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) reintroduced the STOP (Study, Treat, Observe, and Prevent) Neglected Diseases of Poverty Act, legislation that would provide the necessary tools to address, and ultimately eliminate, neglected diseases of poverty in the United States.
Neglected diseases of poverty – many of which are neglected tropical diseases – are a group of chronic and disabling illnesses, such as chagas and dengue fever, that primarily impact those living in extreme poverty. They are caused by parasites, bacteria, and other pathogens and disproportionally impact the most vulnerable in our country, contributing to massive social and health disparities. An estimated 12 million Americans are affected by these debilitating diseases, which are more common in places where there is a lack of sewage infrastructure, unsafe drinking water, and inadequate housing and sanitation.
Public health initiatives in the past century were aimed at eliminating these diseases in the United States, but in reality, they exist in greater numbers than previously thought. Because conventional wisdom holds that these diseases have been eradicated, monitoring has been limited, and doctors aren’t required to report cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Further, the coronavirus pandemic intensified the health morbidities resulting from these diseases. Booker’s bill was the first to focus exclusively on the presence of these diseases in the U.S. Other bills attack the issue from a global perspective.
“Diseases such as hookworm and dengue fever are persisting right here in the U.S. — and are disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable. This injustice is largely hidden from most Americans and highlights a gross inequality, where large swaths of this country are regularly exposed to raw sewage and contaminated drinking water,” said Senator Booker. “People who live in extreme poverty are suffering from diseases that many thought had been eradicated because their communities lack the proper resources. We need to address this challenge by raising awareness and boosting investment in research and monitoring.”
“During the Covid pandemic the nation’s poorest people suffered some of the worst related Covid morbidities. Compounding this situation is the tragic reality of how they are also widely afflicted with neglected diseases. This legislation fills an important void in terms of health disparities in America. It is among the first comprehensive pieces of legislation to address the previously hidden poverty related neglected diseases in the United States. These illnesses are not rare, in fact they are common, but seldom diagnosed treated or prevented because they occur almost exclusively in Americans living in extreme poverty,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, Professor and Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
“We applaud Senator Booker for championing intensified efforts to combat neglected diseases of poverty. A longstanding scourge globally, these threats are increasingly jeopardizing the health and wellbeing of people in the rural south and other parts of the US. Every day that passes without solutions increases the toll on human lives and fragile economies. Following the Senator’s lead, we must work harder and faster to end these diseases,” said Mary Woolley, President of Research!America.
The STOP (Study, Treat, Observe, and Prevent) Neglected Diseases of Poverty Act would:
- Create an Interagency Task Force, which would provide advice and recommendations to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and to Congress to prevent, diagnose, and treat neglected diseases of poverty. When developing recommendations and fulfilling other duties, the task force must consult with States, local communities, scientists, health professionals, and other entities with expertise regarding neglected diseases of poverty.
- Provide resources to states to implement a public health surveillance system to help determine the prevalence and distribution of these illnesses, and to federally qualified health centers to help prevent, diagnose, and treat those who are suffering from or at risk of developing a neglected disease of poverty.
- Require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop and implement educational programs to raise awareness of neglected diseases of poverty, including risk factors and symptoms, among health care providers and the public.
- Facilitate research that can help lead to the development of new and affordable diagnostic tools and treatments for neglected diseases of poverty, including by allowing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to support one or more centers of excellence for neglected diseases of poverty.
The bill is endorsed by the following organizations: The National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi)