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Forgotten Diseases



Find yourself reluctant to let go a sneeze in public? Understandable, given the nation-wide anxiety surrounding Swine Flu. Feel good when you pin on a pink ribbon? Quite appropriate, given the ubiquitous concern for fighting breast cancer. And isn’t it comforting to know that today’s treatments for heart disease call for stents far more often that for scalpels? These diseases are well recognized and their management well funded.


But what about the Forgotten Diseases? Now I don’t mean those obscure, rare maladies that get only a fleeting mention in pathology textbooks. No, I am referring to those illnesses that today cause immense human suffering, but receive comparatively little attention or resources – those plagues that paralyze the lives of people, so very similar to you and I, but are all but unnoticed. For a moment, consider…


• Forgotten diseases like vitamin A deficiency. Some 250,000 to 500,000 children in low-resource communities throughout Africa and the Indian subcontinent go blind each year from dietary deficiency of vitamin A. Startlingly, about half of these children die within a year of becoming blind – often due to associated malnutrition and increased susceptibility to respiratory and diarrheal infections.

• Forgotten diseases like obstructed labor (dystocia). About twenty percent of women in the process of childbirth experience dystocia – failure to progress with the natural birth process. In the setting of modern medical care, dystocia is relatively easy to diagnose and to manage. But in communities without such care, dystocia results in a plethora of complications, including hemorrhage, uterine infection, brachial nerve damage, hypoxic brain injury, vaginal fistula, and death of both mother and baby. In fact, in low-resource nations some 600,000 women and untold numbers of infants die each year from dystocia.

• Forgotten diseases like Chagas disease. This parasitic infection is caused by the protozoan Trypanosoma cruzi, and results in some 21,000 deaths each year in poorer communities of Latin America. Infection typically occurs when blood-sucking assassin bugs bite sleeping humans in their humble dwellings, transmitting the protozoa. Symptoms are deceptively insidious, yet over time individuals develop disabling cardiomyopathy, dysphagia and dementia. Unfortunately, today’s medical treatments are highly toxic and often ineffective, but the disease is entirely preventable.


There exist a plethora of other forgotten diseases: orthopedic injuries, burns, hydrocephalus, river blindness (onchocerciasis), to name just a few. Thankfully, some individuals are taking action on behalf of people suffering from forgotten diseases. Marcy Lynn Coonce, a physical therapy student at Ohio State University, returned this fall from Vellore Christian Medical College & Hospital in Tamilnadu, India. Marcy writes,


“I assisted with treatment for a young boy that had an old femur fracture and had not walked for at least one year. His father carried him places. His family was very poor, but we provided treatment for free. We practiced walking him and taught him exercises to strengthen his hip, lower back, and legs. By the end of just one week he was making some progress. Three weeks later he was walking independently, all after just providing the simplest of therapy interventions!”


You too can take action against the forgotten diseases. INMED would like to help equip you with skills and experience to protect vulnerable communities from the recognized causes of human suffering – and from those that have been largely forgotten.

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