Global Health R&D

Top 10 Reasons To Invest in Global Health R&D

1. Global health R&D saves lives.

  • Appoximately 219 million people contracted malaria and 435,000 people died from it in 2017; 61% of these deaths were children under 5.1 Antimalarial drugs have historically been in the form of pills that must be crushed into a powder that children have difficulty swallowing or refuse to take. The National Institutes of Health and the United States Agency for International Development both supported the development of a child-friendly form of an existing antimalarial drug, Coartem.2 Since its introduction in 2009, 390 million treatments of this medication have been delivered,3 and it is estimated that the lives of over 750,000 children have been saved.2

2. ​Diseases do not recognize national borders.

  • In this age of globalization and world travel, it can take as little as 36 hours for a disease to spread from one remote village to every major city on six continents.4 It only takes one person to bring an infectious disease from one side of the world to the other, so even diseases that predominantly afflict other nations can all too easily affect the U.S. and vice versa.

3. Global health R&D creates jobs and opportunities for Americans.

  • Approximately 89 cents of every dollar the U.S. spends on solving global health challenges stays in the U.S., funding researchers and stimulating industry investment. From 2007 to 2015 alone, the $14 billion in U.S. government invested in global health innovations helped create nearly 200,000 new American jobs and $33 billion in U.S. economic growth.2

4. Nations facing large-scale global health crises often do not have the resources to address these problems alone.

  • Sierra Leone has one of the highest malaria incidence rates in the world at roughly 380 new cases per 1,000 persons,5 and an average life expectancy of just 53 years.6 It also has one of the lowest doctor to patient ratios: there is 1 medical doctor per every 40,000 persons.7 The GDP of Sierra Leone (roughly $4 billion) also pales in comparison to that of the U.S., which, at approximately $20.5 trillion, is the highest in the world.8 Countries like Sierra Leone count on U.S.-backed global health R&D to help drive the medical and public health advancements that can save their citizens’ lives as they do not have the socioeconomic resources to do this critical work on their own.

5. Global health efforts support peace and stability in other nations.

  • The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), is one of the U.S.’s main global health initiatives. Countries helped through PEPFAR have, since the program’s launch in 2003, scored better than other nations on socio-economic indices such as the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI). PEPFAR countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have also seen a 40% increase in “political stability and absence of violence/terrorism” between 2004 and 2013, compared to an only three% increase in non-PEPFAR Sub-Saharan African nations.9

6. Global health R&D protects our citizens and soldiers abroad.

  • It is estimated that nine million U.S. citizens live in other countries10 and nearly 230,000 military and civilian personnel are permanently assigned abroad through the DoD.11 U.S. citizens also made 93 million trips to international counties in 2018.12 If we want to support and protect all Americans including those living and traveling abroad, it is essential that global health R&D be made a priority.

​​7. Global health R&D can also improve domestic health and drive future domestic medical improvements and innovation.

  • While working in Uganda, American physician Dr. Benjamin Warf noticed a high number of children with hydrocephalus (a buildup of fluid in the brain). This condition was being treated with surgical shunts, which was an expensive solution with only short-lived effectiveness. Another more cost effective, long-term surgical solution existed but its efficacy was not well understood. With the help of NIH funding, Dr. Warf and his team conducted a clinical trial in Uganda which showed that the alternate treatment was just as effective and didn’t impair brain development as previously believed. This treatment, like several other global health advancements, has since been adopted in the U.S. as well. In fact, at Boston Children’s Hospital, one-third fewer shunts are being placed in favor of the alternate procedure.13

​8. Global health R&D helps promote economic development around the world.

  • An estimated 10 million people contract tuberculosis (TB) each year,14 many of whom are potential wage-earners. This loss in economic productivity is estimated to total to an annual $12 billion loss from the global economy,15 not to mention the direct costs associated with treating sick patients, many of whom have drug-resistant forms of TB which can be extremely difficult to treat. However, research advancements such as the TB vaccine candidate M72/AS01E are being developed,16 and their implementation could lead to healthier populations being born, lives being saved, and economies being grown.17 

 ​9. Global health R&D is a good investment that saves money.

  • Research has led to the polio vaccine and the near-complete eradication of polio. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a multilateral public-private global partnership18 and one of the largest public health initiatives in history,19 began in 1988 and has since helped vaccinate over 2.5 billion children, bringing the number of polio cases down by 99.99%.18 In October 2019, the second of three wild poliovirus strains was declared completely eradicated. Eradication efforts have saved over $27 billion in health costs worldwide since 1988 and are expected to save $14 billion more by 2050.20

​​10. A majority of Americans support global health R&D

  • ​​There is widespread support for global health R&D amongst the American public. A survey commissioned in 2018 by Research!America in partnership with Zogby Analytics found that when hearing the term “global health,” 81% of respondents thought it is was “an issue about which Americans should be concerned.” The survey also found that 89% of respondents felt it was either very or somewhat important “for the federal government to fund international programs on the surveillance and detection of infectious disease outbreaks.”

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Policy Contacts

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If concerted, long-term investments in research are not made, America will lose an entire generation of young scientists.
Brenda Canine, PhD; McLaughlin Research Institute, Montana