Infectious disease threats have consistently caused more health and military impact than battlefield injuries through the 20th and 21st centuries. Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) like schistosomiasis, intestinal worms and leishmaniasis are just some of the diseases that have affected U.S. troops throughout World War II, the Vietnam War, and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fortunately, the U.S. military has developed major biomedical research and development programs that have protected our troops and civilians worldwide, including those living in impoverished, remote communities most affected by NTDs. The U.S. military’s tropical medicine enterprise has made major advancements through disease detection and surveillance and the development of life-saving interventions like vaccines and medicine, among other initiatives. .

However, as an editorial recently published in PLOS NTDs shows, congressional budget cuts currently in effect and the threat of future cuts jeopardizes the safety and mission readiness of U.S. troops, veterans’ health, and capabilities of the U.S. military’s tropical medicine programs.

As Dr. Peter Hotez, Sabin president and the editorial’s co-author explained, the impact could be tremendous: “Budget cuts put our national and global security at risk by degrading the effectiveness of our armed forces to conduct operations in regions where tropical diseases are endemic.” He urges we “continue to prioritize these programs to protect our troops, treat our veterans and discover new advancements that will improve the lives of the world’s poorest people.”

This uncertain budget climate has inhibited the U.S. military from hiring highly talented scientists and retaining current employees. Some of the other detrimental consequences include: fewer public-private partnerships; interrupted product development and clinical trials and the inability to start new initiatives; and a virtual hold on U.S. military participation in scientific conferences.

Colonel Peter Weina*, deputy commander of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) and co-author of the editorial, commented that "Our sincere hope is that despite the fiscal challenges facing the nation, we as a people do not lose sight of the need for our continued investment in combating these diseases that respect no boundaries or nationality."

We encourage you to read the full editorial at this link.

For more information, see our press release here.

*The opinions stated are the private views of the author and do not necessarily reflect official views of the Department of the Army or the Department of Defense.

 

Photo credit: Army Medicine