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Neglected DiseasesThere’s a new study out that examines the research and development of neglected infectious diseases.

Neglected? Should I feel sorry for them?

Wait… wait… let me define this for you. Neglected infectious diseases are those that occur disproportionately in low to middle income countries. They generally do not yet have vaccines, diagnostics or therapeutics available.

The study defined 30 neglected diseases that attracted a research and development or R&D funding of 2.5 billion dollars.

Sounds impressive until you hear ten billion is given to just three diseases, albeit they’re the BIG three: HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.

That’s fine if they’re a bigger burden on society than neglected diseases. But are they?

There is a way to measure disease burden called disability adjusted life years or DALYs. DALYs measure the potential future years lost as well as time lost due to poor health.

The study calculated the disease burden of Diarhheal diseases which cause over 700 DALYs. HIV by comparison has a lower DALYs of 600, yet it gets over one billion dollars while diarrheal diseases got just a tenth of that.

Worse – bacterial pneumonia and meningitis which together have over one thousand DALYs gets only $44 million dollars.

The authors of the study believe there are several explanations for this. Mostly they believe those that fund the research focus on diseases where the R&D will lead to a quick payoff. There are also political pressures which play a major role. These are all obstacles to the report’s recommendation which is to shift funding to respiratory, diarrheal and other underfunded diseases.

There is another surprise from the study. In terms of per capita spending the country that spent the most on neglected diseases was Ireland. It’s followed next by the US, Sweden, the Netherlands and finally, the United Kingdom.

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For more information…

Some Neglected Diseases Are More Neglected Than Others
Article in "Science" that summarizes the discrepancy between the impact that different infectious diseases have on human populations and the research funding by different countries aimed at understanding and controlling them.
Science 6 February 2009: 700
DOI: 10.1126/science.323.5915.700

World Health Organization Report on Infectious Diseases

Somewhat dated but extensive World Health Organization Report on the impact of infectious diseases on human health.
For more information…

MMWR — Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the CDC
Weekly reports and statistics from the Center for Diseases Control (CDC) in Atlanta. This is the “gold” standard to follow infectious disease outbreaks and incidence in the US and around the world.
For more information…


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