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