Sen. Cory Booker, Dr. Peter Hotez take on neglected diseases

Booker, Hotez call for legislative action in combating poverty-related diseases in the United States

Neglected tropical diseases are the most common diseases affecting those living in extreme poverty across the world, including the United States. In an editorial published this week in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, discuss new legislation to combat these poverty-related neglected diseases through the Study, Treat, Observe and Prevent (STOP) Neglected Diseases of Poverty Act, which was introduced to the U.S. Senate by Booker in October 2019.

“Many are surprised to learn about the depth and breadth of poverty in the United States, and with that poverty comes neglected tropical diseases,” Hotez said. “One of our key findings is that NTDs are not rare conditions; quite the contrary, they are pervasive among the poor, especially in Texas and other Gulf Coast states.”

Infections such as Chagas disease and toxocariasis, among others, disproportionally affect those who live in extreme poverty and can cause serious illnesses including heart failure, pregnancy complications, seizures and even death. While they are traditionally thought of as diseases of developing countries, Hotez and colleagues have found that about 12 million Americans live with at least one neglected parasitic infection. Not only do these conditions arise in poverty, but they also exacerbate poverty because of their long-term disabling effects.

The bill includes:

  • Authorizing language to enhance surveillance efforts to determine the true prevalence and distribution of these diseases as well as to provide appropriate diagnostic tools and clinical algorithms for federally qualified health centers.
  • The creation of centers of excellence for research and development for new drugs, diagnostics and vaccines to combat these diseases across the country.
  • A call to develop educational programs for healthcare providers since most are not trained to recognize, diagnose, treat and manage diseases of poverty.
  • A call for the establishment of an interagency task force to provide recommendations to government agencies and the U.S. Congress for diagnosing, treating and preventing these diseases.

“Through this legislation, we hope to begin chipping away at decades, maybe even centuries of widespread neglect of the poorest people in America,” Hotez said.

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