By: Megan Manning
With prevalent diseases such as AIDS threatening both impoverished and developed nations alike and demanding the attention of the medical world, many other proportionately fatal health problems are being abandoned on the wayside. At the 9th Annual Western Regional International Health Conference, this was something that many believed needed to be addressed. “The point is to get away from the usual diseases that we hear so much about and that get so much funding,” says Lisa Cohen, the executive director of the Washington Global Health Alliance and moderator of The Understudy’s Role: Global Health’s Next Challenges. “If you look at the global burden of disease, some things are not expected: respiratory disease from wooden stoves, for example.”
“A lot of the reason for the lack of treatment is regional,” explained Chris Nelson, President of Nursing Students of Washington State and one of three lecturers speaking on the subject of marginalized disease. “Larger diseases are getting attention because they have gone beyond a small region. They have permeated the rich, developed world and are thus more alarming to those who create the drugs.” Nelson spoke at length on one disease in particular that has grown into a larger problem from lack of funding. Trichinosis, a parasite disease that can cause ocular protrusions through the consumption of contaminated and untreated meat products, is something that has been sweeping the Northern Arctic. Walruses are one of the many other dangerous meats known as “Country Foods” that carry the parasite, and with food insecurity and poverty running rampant among the Arctic population, they have become a favored replacement. According to Cohen, “At least 70% of emerging diseases are carried by animals. Animal health and human health are tied.”
Carrie Barrion–Schmidt also presented on the problems concerning Schistosomiasis, a fresh–water parasite that can be contracted through the skin. Causing fatigue and stunted growth, Schistosomiasis can make it difficult for individuals living in impoverished conditions to provide for their families. It also accelerates vulnerability to other infectious diseases like malaria and TB. The problem though, is that the source of the parasite is also the source from which many of these families garner their income. The water in which the disease manifests is where the people go about their work: fishing, washing clothes, gathering water. It’s also the playground for many of the children within those communities. Access to clean water or purification tablets might be desirable alternatives, but they are not solutions.
Peter Milgrom believes that there are answers to these problems, but no interest in pursuing them. In speaking on the subject of tooth decay in children, the single most common infectious disease in the world, he identified that the solution could come by means of universal free distribution of fluoride toothpaste, something that would be relatively inexpensive while simultaneously effective. But there just isn’t enough interest in the subject. Betel nut and tobacco are encouraged instead of Xylitol syrups that could also provide a safe cure, causing premature cases of cancer among children.
The message was pretty clear: other diseases are just as dangerous, yes. But there are so many others that have yet to receive sufficient medical attention, and those are the ones that are causing pain, suffering and death among the impoverished and developing countries.
“Global health means addressing the health needs of the most vulnerable populations,” remarked Cohen. Until then, unchecked chronic disease will continue to increase.