Rep. Johnson proposes bill to deal with neglected infections of poverty

July 30, 2010
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Hank Johnson (GA-04) today introduced a bipartisan bill to address a growing problem of parasitic diseases – mostly in poor, minority populations – along the U.S.-Mexico border, the rural South, Appalachia and distressed urban areas.

The “Neglected Infections of Impoverished Americans Act of 2010” – H.R. 5986 – would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to report to Congress annually on the impact of these diseases, address their threat and make funding recommendations on how to eradicate them.

Some of the parasitic infections are spread by insects – such as Chagas disease or dengue fever. Others, such as toxocara and toxoplasmosis, are attained through contaminated animal feces, and still others thrive in soil, such as thread worms.

All of these neglected infections affect hundreds of thousands of mostly poor, minority residents with no health insurance. Infected people suffer from heart disease, lung ailments, birth defects, seizures, difficult pregnancies and child developmental problems.

“This legislation is a good first step in fighting these diseases by raising awareness,” said Rep. Johnson. “These are infections that we can treat, but we don’t have a good grasp on what impact these diseases are having on poor communities throughout the nation.”

Dr. Peter Hotez, a microbiologist at The George Washington University and President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, called the group of infections “a largely hidden burden of diseases.”

In a paper published in 2008 in the Public Library of Science Neglected Tropical Diseases, Dr. Hotez reported on surprisingly high rates of parasitic infections among the poor, particularly among minority populations, in the U.S.

“These are diseases that we know are at least as important as H1N1,” Hotez said. “Yet, they are on no one’s radar. These are not exotic diseases found only in developing countries. They are right here in our communities, and this legislation is desperately needed to help get a grasp on their impact.”

The bill, which was originally passed by the House in the Health Care Reform bill, was not included in Senate version that became law, and now goes to the Energy and Commerce Committee for review. Original cosponsors  include Al Green (D-TX), Donna Christensen (D-VT), Henry Waxman (D-CA), John Conyers (D-MI), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Bobby Rush (D-, G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Raul Grijalva (D-AR), Phil Gingrey (R-GA) and Donald Payne (D-NY).

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