Harnessing the ‘Power of What is Possible’ to End Neglected Tropical Diseases
June 16, 2023
This year, the U.S. marks 20 years of the PEPFAR program: the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. American Leprosy Missions believes this program shows us a way forward in combatting another global health threat: neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) like leprosy.
Initiated by George W. Bush in 2003, PEPFAR represents the largest financial commitment from any country devoted to a single disease: $110 billion over 20 years, saving 25 million lives from HIV/AIDS. It is a unique success story both in terms of impact and financial support. As we mark the International Day of the African Child on June 16, ALM and our partners around the world hope to see a similar U.S. commitment applied to NTDs.
Hannah lives in a remote village in Liberia. Children like her are 50% of the victims of the flesh-eating disease, Buruli ulcer.
A group of twenty conditions impacting over 1.7 billion people, NTDs are among the top four most devastating groups of communicable diseases, frequently resulting in disability, poverty and social stigma. At ALM, we target six NTDs: leprosy, Buruli ulcer, lymphatic filariasis, trachoma, leishmaniasis and yaws. In the past few decades, international consensus around NTDs is growing, expressed in milestone documents like the London Declaration on NTDs (2012) and the Kigali Declaration on NTDs (2022). ALM celebrated signing the Kigali Declaration last June!
Even though the U.S. is a signatory to both these documents, Congress has yet to back the signatures with the increased financial support needed to achieve change. Many countries fighting NTDs also receive PEPFAR support, but U.S. funding for these health priorities is vastly different.
Over 20 years, PEPFAR has saved millions of children’s lives. We need a similar financial commitment to defeat NTDs like leprosy and Buruli ulcer.
Congress first designated funds to fight NTDs in 2006, and reached its highest funding point this fiscal year: $114.5 million, compared to PEPFAR’s initial budget of $1.9 billion in FY 2004 and $6.9 billion in FY 2023.
Our current approach is not enough: to defeat NTDs, we have to show the same resolve and momentum we’ve demonstrated in PEPFAR.
In his 2023 State of the Union address, President Biden noted PEPFAR’s accomplishments and remarked, “I believe we can do the same with cancer.”
American Leprosy Missions believes we can do the same with NTDs. These diseases cause untold suffering, but we can meet this challenge with the determination we brought to PEPFAR and see similar success.
According to the U.S. Department of State, PEPFAR “shows the power of what is possible.”
Let’s harness the power of what is possible to create a world free of neglected tropical diseases!
Bill Simmons, President and CEO, American Leprosy Missions
Prior to joining American Leprosy Missions in 2010, Bill Simmons served as president and CEO of two nationwide retail chains. His two decades of business experience serve him well as he leads American Leprosy Missions to break barriers to health and renew hope for people suffering from the pain and stigma of neglected tropical diseases like leprosy.
Read full bio.