“Neglected Diseases”: the name says it all. If this label sticks forever, it means we’ve continued to fail millions of patients every year. But the term “NDs” (along with “NTDs”, T for Tropical) has gained currency, so we’ll save the wordsmithing for another time. For the uninitiated, NDs are those that affect primarily the poor; these diseases thrive at the margins of the world’s attention. Specific examples are catalogued by a variety of groups (WHO, TDR, GNNTD, G-FINDER, BVGH, PLoS, and many others) but one thing all NDs have in common is a meagre reserve of treatments, tests, and vaccines available to treat the billions of people currently struggling under their burden. Some kill outright. Others disable and disfigure, crippling individuals, their livelihoods, their families, and their communities.
These diseases are ancient enemies of humanity1. Tuberculosis, for example, once claimed countless lives all over the world, including prominent artists and political figures. Even today, nearly forgotten in wealthy countries, it still takes a heavy toll in the rest of the world: one of every three people on Earth is currently infected. The biomedical revolution, together with investments in public health and sanitation, have reduced the infectious disease burden to nearly an afterthought for most people in high-income countries: here one generally expects to be free of infectious disease.
This expectation is a good thing: it allows individuals and communities to make reasonable predictions about the future, and often thrive as a result. The bad thing — the shocking thing — is that dozens of diseases do still afflict hundreds of millions of people, everywhere, in an age where it is possible to develop excellent technology for treatment and prevention.
So why do we have plentiful treatments and cures (with few or manageable side effects) for diseases of the rich, and few to none (with atrocious side effects) for diseases of the poor? Why this neglect? More, please! »Read 1 Comment »