Cuts to U.S. military’s infectious disease programs endanger lives and future medical advancements

WASHINGTON, D.C. – December 26, 2013 – Current budget restrictions and the threat of future cuts jeopardize the safety and mission readiness of U.S. troops, veterans’ health, and capabilities of the U.S. military’s tropical medicine research and development (R&D), said researchers today in an editorial published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

"U.S. military medical research has and continues to make tremendous contributions to the health and well-being of both this nation and the world at large with respect to neglected tropical diseases," said Colonel Peter Weina, deputy commander of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) and co-author of the editorial. "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," said Weina.*

Malaria, dengue fever, leishmaniasis and bacterial diarrheal diseases, among others, are the U.S. military’s top infectious disease threats, consistently causing more health and military impact than battlefield injuries throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

Programs such as the WRAIR and the Naval Medical Research Center (NMRC) have conducted R&D, led expansive disease detection and surveillance, and collaborated with private scientific and pharmaceutical partners to protect our troops and billions of civilians worldwide. Life-saving interventions such as mefloquine, Malarone, and the hepatitis A and Japanese encephalitis vaccines have resulted from these programs, while vaccines for malaria, adenovirus infection, dengue fever and HIV/AIDS are currently in clinical trials.

However, budget reductions are impeding these efforts. In addition to workforce reductions and hiring freezes that limit the talent pool of scientists, 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.

“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,” said Peter Hotez, MD PhD, co-author of the editorial and president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, director of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “We must 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.”

“Many global health milestones and lives saved have resulted from the U.S. military’s leadership,” said Coreen Beaumier, PhD, an assistant professor in the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. “As diseases like dengue fever and leishmaniasis pick up around the world due to new conflicts and breakdown in infrastructure, a robust U.S. military R&D enterprise is crucial.”

*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.

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.

About The Sabin Vaccine Institute Product Development Partnership

The Sabin Vaccine Institute Product Development Partnership (Sabin PDP) focuses on creating safe, effective and low-cost vaccines to prevent human suffering from infectious and neglected tropical diseases that infect more than 1 billion people worldwide. The Sabin PDP collaborates with private, academic and public institutions in low- and middle-income countries, Australia, the United States and Europe, for preclinical development, vaccine manufacturing and clinical testing. A complete overview of ongoing projects and partners is available at www.sabin.org/pdp.

About the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research

Headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland and established in 1893, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) is the oldest, largest, and the most programmatically diverse military research institute of the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and Department of Defense.  With four overseas research units in Thailand, German, Kenya and the Republic of Georgia, WRAIR is comprised of two Centers of Excellence, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and the Center for Military Psychiatry and Neuroscience. For more information, visit www.wrair.army.mil or follow on Twitter at twitter.com/WRAIR.

About the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine

The National School of Tropical Medicine (NSTM) at Baylor College of Medicine is committed to addressing the world's most pressing tropical disease issues. The school applies strong traditions in basic, translational and applied biotechnology research brought by the BCM faculty and staff with the newly affiliated Sabin Vaccine Institute Product Development Partnership (Sabin-PDP). The NSTM works in partnership with Texas Children's Hospital, home of the Sabin Vaccine Institute & Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. For more information please visit http://www.bcm.edu/tropicalmedicine/.

About Texas Children’s Hospital

Texas Children’s Hospital, a not-for-profit organization, is committed to creating a community of healthy children through excellence in patient care, education and research. Consistently ranked among the top children’s hospitals in the nation, Texas Children’s has recognized Centers of Excellence in multiple pediatric subspecialties including the Cancer and Heart Centers, and operates the largest primary pediatric care network in the country. Texas Children's has completed a $1.5 billion expansion, which includes the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute; Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women, a comprehensive obstetrics/gynecology facility focusing on high-risk births; and Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus, a community hospital in suburban West Houston.  For more information on Texas Children's, go to http://www.texaschildrens.org. Get the latest news from Texas Children’s by visiting the online newsroom and on Twitter at twitter.com/texaschildrens.

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