Tropical Diseases: The Right Fight against the Wrong Enemy

Article excerpt

After a long, hard fought struggle against humanity's oldest scourge, the terror of smallpox--disfiguring and deadly--was no more. The eradication of smallpox in 1979 heralded an era of optimism for the global health community. At WHO Headquarters in Geneva, it was a time for celebration and fortitude. But what appeared to be the first great victory in the long war against contagion proved to be one of the last. Idealistic plans to eradicate malaria, polio, and measles grew in size and success for a time, but now falter in the race towards progress--stumbling across mutant strains, civil strife, and international apathy. As Western nations turn inwards to address their own domestic problems, the future outlook of health in the developing world is increasingly bleak. The era of impractical optimism is over. But the era of global health improvement is not. The oversimplified foundations of worldwide public health must be shaken, and the reign of Big Pharma must end. For only by finding solutions to the problems of idealism and profit--the twin parasites sucking the lifeblood out of the global health community--may the world yet see a brighter future on the horizon.

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Global health is a romantic profession. Images of young doctors performing emergency procedures in impoverished lands dominate headlines, creating a new pop culture phenomenon. But it is a phenomenon that complicates the struggle against infection. The most "glamorous" diseases--those that are the most difficult to cure, the most controversial, and the most widespread--AIDs, tuberculosis, and malaria, receive a disproportionate amount of the funding available for research and programming. Although billions are spent each year on finding a solution to the combined threat of "the big three," there is little progress to show for it. Every year, over 5.6 million people die from these diseases with no cure in sight. Such staggering figures lead to greater investment, greater focus, and greater ignorance. As the international community unites against AIDS, malaria and TB, no one is uniting against Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)--a collection of thirteen different pathogens that are problems primarily in developing countries.

Although only 534,000 of the estimated 750 million annual cases are fatal, the socio-economic burden of these diseases acts as a positive feedback loop, reinforcing a state of impoverishment on a sixth of the world's population. …

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