Peter Hotez, M.D., Ph.D., president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute (Sabin) and director of the Sabin Product Development Partnership (Sabin PDP), testified this week at two congressional hearings: the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing, “Examining the U.S. Public Health Response to the Zika Virus”; and the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations on “The Growing Threat of Cholera and Other Diseases in the Middle East.”

During the hearing on the Zika virus, Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA) and other members of the subcommittee sought greater clarity on the U.S. government’s response to the outbreak in Latin America. The first panel included witnesses from the federal government, including Thomas Frieden, M.D., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Anthony Fauci, M.D., Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Hotez, who served on the second panel of NGO witnesses, shared his concerns that the Zika virus could spread to the Gulf Coast as early as this spring. “I am particularly concerned about the U.S. Gulf Coast because it represents the perfect storm of key factors that promote the spread of Zika, including extreme poverty and the unique presence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito,” said Dr. Hotez. Video of the full hearing is available here.

“To fight Zika, the U.S. government needs to coordinate with our global health partners on a two-pronged approach towards controlling the spread of Zika: aggressive mosquito control with insecticides, and source reduction to remove standing water that breeds mosquitoes,” Dr. Hotez said in his prepared testimony. “In addition to coordination on mosquito control and source reduction within the federal government, there needs to be similar coordination between the federal, state, and local governments.”

At the hearing on cholera and other diseases in the Middle East, Chairman Chris Smith addressed the conflicts in places such as Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and the resulting threat of cholera and other emerging viral and neglected diseases in the region. Video of the full hearing is available here.

In his testimony, Dr. Hotez said the factors that promoted the emergence of Ebola in West Africa in 2014 are now present in the ISIS-occupied areas of Iraq, Syria, Libya and, to some extent, Yemen. “Ebola spread across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone not because it was tropical but because years or decades of atrocities has decimated their health systems and healthcare infrastructure. This, combined with deforestation and human migrations, created the perfect storm that allowed Ebola virus to flourish. Based on reports from the area and the diseases among refugees in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, these same forces are in play in the Daesh occupied areas.”

To prevent the spread of these diseases in the Middle East, Dr. Hotez addressed the need to find a better way to incentivize and develop innovations for neglected diseases through product development partnerships. The Sabin PDP, he noted, is one of the few PDPs globally developing products for diseases of poverty that are not financially remunerative. He added, “As there is no commercial incentive to develop new tools that mostly or exclusively affect the world’s poor, there is an urgent need for increased public investment into NTD R&D in order to sustain momentum for the development of new health tools, advance products currently in development and deliver them to people in need worldwide.”

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About the Sabin Vaccine Institute

The Sabin Vaccine Institute (Sabin) is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization of scientists, researchers and advocates dedicated to reducing needless human suffering from vaccine-preventable and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Since its founding in 1993 in honor of Dr. Albert B. Sabin, the developer of the oral polio vaccine, Sabin has been at the forefront of global efforts to eliminate, prevent and cure infectious and neglected tropical diseases. Sabin develops new vaccines, advocates for increased use of existing vaccines and promotes expanded access to affordable medical treatments in collaboration with governments, academic institutions, scientists, medical professionals and other non-profit organizations. For more information, please visit www.sabin.org.

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