Monthly Archives: December 2013

Whenever the Mega Millions jackpot hits obscenely high numbers, like it did last week, I start making a list of what I would buy and where I would make contributions or investments if I won. One place would be in working to control or minimize dengue fever.

It is a disease close to my heart — and lurking in the back of my mind — and I feel like its lone champion, because it is overshadowed by malaria. It’s particularly frustrating because Federal funding ignores it as well, yet could control it with a minor investment. In the great scheme of things, we aren’t talking about a lot of money.  This infectious disease could be managed and controlled, and thereby we could reduce or eliminate a critical public health issue.

Dengue is one of several infectious diseases that is so underserved that the World Health Organization lists it among its “neglected tropical diseases.”

Neglected. Wow. Strong word.

They’re called neglected because they are underserved, underfunded, and under researched — particularly when measured against the threats they pose.


Case in point: This week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put out an alert:  Chikungunya, a devastating infectious disease, which had never before been seen in the Western Hemisphere, arrived in the Caribbean. The alert told travelers – more than 9 million Americans journey to the Caribbean every year – what to do to prevent becoming infected.  And they would be wise to take precautions: An infection typically causes severe symptoms including headache, joint pain and fever.

Dengue is already endemic in Latin America, and cases have been seen in California and Florida. There’s even a new dengue virus type to worry about. Experts are already postulating that Chikungunya will follow. These aren’t diseases or illnesses that are prevalent “somewhere else,” but are viruses right here in the U.S. And it will take more than individual behaviors to keep them out. Funding for research to find a prevention, to enforce border protection, and multi-lateral agreements to address and contain the sources of the disease are priorities.  Then you work on changing individual behaviors.

I didn’t win this week’s mega lottery. But humanity would win big if we worked to remove the “neglected” from the common moniker of this collection of sly diseases, and slide them to the “Controlled” or “Managed” columns instead.

PS: After drafting this blog, I was talking to one of my social marketing mavens about Neglected Tropical Disease and he said, “The first thing you do is change the name? Neglected?! No.  We need to rethink how these viruses are known.”

— Dee Bennett

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) created a terrific infographic on pandemic prevention and preparedness. I wanted to share it; we’ve tweeted it, but we need all the coverage we can get of this critical issue.  Click here for the full visual.


Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 7.34.08 AM

I started working on pandemic threats in 2005 with the outbreak of H5N1 influenza virus (avian influenza) in Southeast Asia – Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. I was a communication technical advisor on a USAID-funded project managed by AED.  We were juggling treatment (while not knowing WHAT the virus really was) and prevention. Much like the early days of HIV and AIDS, the response strategy of the groups involved was first to stop internal hemorrhaging, while tracking the disease epidemiology to reveal a prevention route.

It has only been nine years – a lifetime in the cycle of a virus – and since then there has been H1N1 2009 pandemic influenza…and now we’re watching H7.

Another RWJF’s NewPublicHealth blog on pandemic awareness lists “top five things you didn’t know could spread disease” including sweaty strivers crawling through mud and various obstacle courses in races like “Tough Mudder” — and an unvaccinated child  as the top risk, which seems obvious to those of us on the ground but is not apparent to a growing number of parents.

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But while the experts work to decode and prepare a response to H7, remember to wash your hands regularly, sneeze into your inner elbow, stay home when you’re sick, and follow hospital room behavior:  Any surface may be contaminated.

Thanks to RWJF for letting us remind you that another pandemic could happen, and that individual practices can reduce those odds dramatically.

— Dee Bennett

We wrote about the World Bank’s Service Delivery Indicators (SDI)* inauguration in July with its first launch in Kenya.

SDI’s second launch was last month (November) in Uganda. The results, though sobering, were met with a positive response from the government and civil society.  Country influentials and leaders are serious about improving the quality of service in education and health care.

Since its first country launch, SDI has received additional funding from several donors – to be revealed at a later time! – and is expanding to other countries with a full schedule in 2014.

Next launch is end of January in Nigeria.

Another Option is very proud of its relationship with SDI.

Graphic courtesy of SDI

Graphic courtesy of SDI



*World Bank’s Service Delivery Indicators – a rigorous evidence-based tool that is a status report on health and education service delivery (