Q&A: Why the US should invest in global health innovation — for its own sake

A chemist tests drug samples. Photo by: Michael J. Ermarth / The U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Chagas disease — a debilitating disease caused by a parasite in the feces of the Triatominae, also known as kissing, vampire or assassin bugs — is a neglected tropical disease, a term for diseases that affect the poorest communities in the world. But this disease, endemic in rural areas of Latin America, also currently infects 300,000 people in the United States. In addition to the impact on people who become infected — including an acute phase, which usually occurs unnoticed, and a chronic stage, which develops over many years and can include intestinal and cardiac complications — the disease costs the U.S. economy an estimated $900 million annually.

There were many surprised looks in the audience when panelists mentioned the prevalence of Chagas disease in the U.S. at a global health event on Thursday in Washington, D.C. The discussion was organized by the Global Health Technologies Coalition, 25 nonprofit organizations advocating for research and development for new drugs, vaccines, diagnostics and other global health technologies to coincide with the release of a report called “Return on innovation: Why global health R&D is a smart investment for the United States.”

Following the event, Devex spoke with Jamie Bay Nishi, director of GHTC, about takeaways from the report and how they will inform the organization’s advocacy efforts. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

GHTC looks at all of the federal agencies leading the U.S. effort to support global health R&D, from the Department of State to the Department of Defense. This report helped me to understand the unique contributions each of those agencies makes. What were the key takeaways for you and how will they inform your work?

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About the author

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    Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology and innovation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported from all over the world, and freelanced for outlets including the Atlantic and the Washington Post. She is also the West Coast ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit that trains and connects journalists to cover responses to problems.