Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Neglected Diseases

More than 1 billion people worldwide are infected with diseases of poverty. These conditions disproportionately afflict the world’s poorest, either in the developing world, or in developed countries with extreme inequality.

well-known conditions such as HIV/AIDS and malaria are considered diseases of poverty, many of the other illnesses that primarily strike the world’s poorest are lesser-known and frequently misunderstood. The World Health Organization has designated about 20 of these conditions as “neglected tropical diseases.” This diverse array of conditions ― such as leprosy, dengue, Chagas, and elephantiasis, to name a few ― don’t attract the global media attention or funding that certain wide-ranging tropical diseases, such as malaria, have garnered in recent years.

HIV and malaria can be fatal, but many diseases of poverty aren’t. In fact, the neglected diseases that kill ― Chagas, sleeping sickness, and rabies, for example ― account for 170,000 deaths globally, a relatively small number. More often, diseases of poverty cause extreme pain and can even disfigure or disable victims for life. Because they’re not big killers, these diseases don’t attract a lot of funding.

Dr. W. Evan Secor, a microbiologist in the Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, explained  “People either pay attention to diseases that will kill many, or diseases that are funded heavily.” The neglected tropical diseases can be found in 149 countries across the world, predominantly sickening extremely poor people who live in developing or remote areas. “Poor people living in rural areas in developing countries tend not to have a lot of advocates,” Dr. Secor said. “They also don’t have a very developed health infrastructure around them to deal with these cases, so their access to medicine is often limited.” 

In the absence of health education and outreach programs, sufferers can live for years without proper diagnosis and treatment. If sufferers do have access to health care, the services available are often too weak and under-resourced to deal with the health burden these diseases present. Many people who are disfigured or disabled as a result of a neglected disease live in communities that may not acknowledge or understand the disease. Sufferers might be socially marginalized and may struggle to work or maintain relationships ― especially when the disease causes disability or disfigurement.

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