When you think of the people and organisations that usually fund NTD research, the US Department of Defence (DOD) isn’t the first one that springs to mind. Since the first Gulf War in the 1990s, the DOD has been trickling a small (relative to some of their other projects) but still significant amount of funding into leishmaniasis research.
Leishmaniasis is endemic in the Middle East, including Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2003, contracting
leishmaniasis whilst on tour meant a one-way trip back to the US. In 2006, there were 1287 cases, with each soldier contracting leishmaniasis losing an average of 60 duty days
DOD budgets show various amounts of funding for leishmaniasis projects, including one of a new skin treatment
for the lesions the disease causes, and another for use of medical lasers
to treat the lesions. In a report on the Gulf War, DOD spending on leishmaniasis between 1994 and 1998 adds up to just under $5m
.The US Military has at times over the past century been at the forefront of reseach
into dengue and typhoid fever, malaria, and HIV.
These are treatments that are developed for military personnel in war zones. They need to be transportable, effective in areas with only basic infrastructure and ideally without highly specialised medical personnel. And so, by saving money in defence, the US is simultaneously developing treatments and diagnostic tools that could be ideal for the elimination of the disease in civilians.
In 2008, the DOD accounted for 24%
of all US federal spending on leishmaniasis. In 2012, that figure looks set to fall. As Capitol Hill battles over spending, military research into diseases such as leishmaniasis could be cut, not only jeopardising soldier’s lives, but slowing the global war against NTDs.