For a fraction of the cost of maintaining a nuclear arsenal, the 11 nuclear power states (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, Iran, and possibly Syria) could eliminate neglected infections within their borders—which account for up to 50 precent of the global disease burden, says an editorial published in the open-access journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
In his analysis, Dr. Peter Hotez, President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and professor at The George Washington University Medical Center, estimates that “the 11 nuclear weapons states together have invested at least $10 trillion on weapons production and maintenance” while “the costs for both neglected disease control and R&D come close to $1 billion, or roughly less than 1/10,000th of the estimated $10 trillion committed for nuclear weapons.”
With the possible exception of the United Kingdom, each of the nuclear weapons states has a high neglected disease burden. India accounts for roughly one-quarter of the world's 120 million cases of lymphatic filariasis, a disfiguring and stigmatizing vector-borne infection associated with elephantiasis.
Almost one-half of the world's 60 million trachoma cases occur in nuclear weapons states, with China having the highest number of any nation. Approximately one-third of the estimated 800 million ascariasis infection cases occur in nuclear weapons states, including India (140 million), China (86 million), North Korea (8 million), Pakistan (7 million) and Iran (5 million).
Investments in nuclear weaponry are carried out under the auspice of deterring war and thus promoting peace, says Hotez, but these and additional benefits can be achieved through neglected disease funding. Increased investments in neglected disease research could control or eliminate neglected infections, support achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, stabilize and build nations and reduce civil strife and international tensions.
“In the coming decade, engaging the nuclear powers on neglected disease R&D and global implementation efforts [would] represent a significant diplomatic victory for the world,” he concludes in the editorial.