Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Scandal of Poor People's Disease

The Scandal of Poor People’s Disease

On the Opinion page of the New York Times several days ago, there was an article entitled “The Scandal of the Poor People’s Disease” by Tina Rosenberg. Rosenberg’s idea is that if you have to get sick, it is better to become ill with a disease that infects the rich too. That way more research is done, more medications are registered and used, more lobbying is done for your plight, and you may be helped. For example, due to strong lobbying groups in the US, HIV became a very hot topic quickly which led to very serious research and the development of medications that have extended the lives of many people with the HIV virus all over the world. If the developed world did not have AIDS, this research most likely would not have been done.

Tuberculosis infects one-third of the world’s population. You read that correctly. Two billion people are infected. Not all have the disease, but many are infected and are at risk of developing active TB. In the decade of the 90’s tuberculosis killed more people worldwide than in any decade in human history.

In Haiti, my wife and I spend much of the year working in a pediatric TB clinic. Haiti is full of tuberculosis and it hits children especially hard. Children’s immune systems just do not fight TB well enough and infection can turn into full blown tuberculosis. Fifty percent of children with active TB who are not diagnosed or treated with medications for the disease are dead in 5 years.

There are 8,000,000 new cases of tuberculosis infection each year around the world. Tuberculosis kills 5,000 people EACH day. While there has been a cure for TB for 50 years, virulent new forms of the disease have arisen. Despite this, there have been no new registered drugs for TB in 40 years. The vaccination for TB is 80 years old. As Rosenberg states, TB is an ancient disease and the cure is outdated. What she means is a disease of this magnitude has been targeted by very little research and attempts to control it--until AIDS came along and infected the wealthy nations.

When AIDS became common in the US and Europe, AIDS victims frequently became infected with TB because their immune systems were damaged. AIDS patients around the frequently die from TB. Therefore, public health systems were resurrected in the US and TB was made much more of a priority. As a result, the US has an all time lowest number of TB cases in the nation’s history.

TB attacks the invisible poor people around the world. In the US we have children who are too obese for the car seats that are manufactured. The children my wife and I see each day are too small to sit in these car seats. But they don’t need car seats here because the parents don’t have cars. TB attacks these kids and makes them even smaller.

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