Earlier this week, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker introduced 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.

Necator americanus
Necator americanus (hookworm)

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 segments of the country, contributing to massive social and health disparities. An estimated 12 million Americans are affected by these debilitating diseases, which are 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 supposed to have eliminated 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. Booker’s bill is the first to focus exclusively on the presence of these diseases in the U.S. Other bills attack the issue from a global perspective.

“Across the poorest parts of our country people are facing appalling realities that would shock the consciousness of many Americans. Diseases commonly associated with developing countries, such as hookworm and dengue fever, are sprouting right here in the U.S. — and disproportionately impacting our most underserved communities. This is an injustice that has been 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,” Senator Booker said. “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.”

Dr. Peter Hotez discusses his new book, ‘Blue Marble Health’

“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,” Dr. Peter Hotez, Professor and Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine said.

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 American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, the Center of Excellence for Chagas Disease, the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, the Global Health Council, the Global Health Technology Coalition, and PATH.