The fight against TB is not over

While Sharon and Winfrey’s story may seem worlds away, TB is making a frightening resurgence in the United States. In our home states of New Jersey and Florida, for example, health officials still diagnose hundreds of TB cases every year.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Each year, 9 million people all over the world lose their lives to infectious diseases like TB, and half a million women die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Four million newborns perish within weeks of birth. And emerging resistance to some of our most effective drugs poses a major threat to human health across the globe. New vaccines, drugs, tests, and other health tools are desperately needed to combat the spread of disease both in the United States and abroad. But progress cannot be made without a sustained investment in research.

That’s why we have come together to introduce the 21st Century Global Health Technology Act (H.R. 1515). This bipartisan bill would encourage the development of health products that are affordable, culturally appropriate, and easy to use in low-resource health systems. And in these times of fiscal constraint, it is worth noting that the bill would require no new funding. It focuses on existing resources and makes them more streamlined to increase efficiency and efficacy.

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The bill also supports a comprehensive, smart and deficit-neutral approach to research for new global health technologies at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which has played a critical role for decades in supporting global health research and development (R&D). As a leading funder of breakthrough products for global health, USAID is a key partner in later-stage research that ensures the development of safe and effective health tools. 

Even a simple tool, when administered in the right way, can save thousands of lives.  Often, they are quite simple, easy-to-use and may not even begin as solutions to a health issue. Take the vaccine vial monitor (VVM), a dime-sized sticker originally designed for use on perishable foods. Today, thanks to a partnership between the New Jersey-based manufacturer Temptime, the international nonprofit organization PATH, and USAID, the color-changing stickers are used on vaccines in developing countries to indicate when a vaccine has been exposed to too much heat and might no longer be effective. PATH estimates that between 2002 and 2012, VVMs allowed health workers to recognize and replace more than 860 million doses of inactive vaccine and to deliver 1.45 billion more doses in remote settings—helping to save more than 150,000 lives and reduce illness for countless others.

USAID is also supporting research into breakthrough technologies to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases and conditions that threaten the lives of mothers and newborns around the world. The 21st Century Global Health Technology Act would bolster this research and strengthen public-private partnerships—an effective model long supported by USAID that combines the resources of government, the private sector, and the know-how of NGOs. These collaborations nurture R&D, help grow the domestic economy, and lead to job creation. For example, 64 cents of every US dollar invested in global health research goes directly to US-based researchers. 

USAID has helped to make incredible progress in global public health by supporting R&D. This bill would strengthen and support the agency’s product development activities, while also expanding its capabilities in health research to new areas, such as TB vaccines, which the agency currently does not support. By filling these R&D gaps, this legislation can help elevate USAID’s reach and impact across the globe. For mothers and children like Sharon and Winfrey, new health tools like a safe and effective TB vaccine can mean the difference between life and death, as well as a healthier, more prosperous future free of disease. 

By supporting this bill, Congress can help make an immeasurable difference in the lives of women and children like Sharon and Winfrey, while also safeguarding the health of American citizens and supporting our economy. Sharon and Winfrey’s courage in enrolling in this groundbreaking trial needs to be supported and matched by Congress.

Sires has represented New Jersey congressional districts since 2006. He serves on the Foreign Affairs and the Transportation and Infrastructure committees. Diaz-Balart has represented Florida’s 25th Congressional District since 2003. He sits on the Appropriations Committee..