7.12.2008

u.s. poor afflicted by tropical diseases of africa, asia

From my "US turning in to third-world country" file:
Tropical diseases that ravage Africa, Asia and Latin America commonly occur among the poor in the USA, leaving thousands of people shattered by debilitating complications including mental retardation, heart disease and epilepsy, an analysis showed Monday.

The diseases, caused by chronic viral, bacterial and parasitic infections, disproportionately strike women and children and are largely overlooked by doctors, says author Peter Hotez of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, part of Sabin Vaccine Institute.

Hotez says the diseases go untreated in hundreds of thousands of poor people who live mainly in inner cities, the Mississippi Delta, Appalachia and the Mexican borderlands.

In many cases, he says, the infections cause disabilities that trap sufferers in lasting poverty. His analysis, called "Neglected Infections of Poverty in the United States," appears in the journal he edits, PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

As widespread as the diseases are, few people in middle America have heard of them, and many doctors never think to check for them, says Carlos Franco-Paredes of Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, who was not involved in the analysis.

Franco-Paredes says the effect can be devastating: "If you have these infections as a kid, if you're anemic, your ability to learn when you go to school is affected. If you have these infections on a chronic basis, they can affect your ability to become a productive adult and support your family."

Hotez says it is a "disgrace" that diseases causing so much suffering remain at the bottom of the national health agenda.

"If this were occurring among white mothers in the suburbs, you'd hear a tremendous outcry," says Hotez, a microbiologist at George Washington University.

Franco-Paredes says the remedy may be as simple as screening minorities, immigrants and refugees and making sure doctors can diagnose and treat these ailments.

The article lists some of the diseases, their prevalence, and what populations they primarily affect.

Hotez is quoted as saying, "If this were occurring among white mothers in the suburbs, you'd hear a tremendous outcry." That's true, of course. Also true is that increasing numbers of former middle-class suburbanites now find themselves scrounging at the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, because their health-care needs wiped out their homes and their savings. So these issues are affecting ever greater numbers of Americans.

Not bad for the Greatest Nation on the Face of the Earth™, eh?

Thanks, as always, to my researcher-in-chief.

17 comments:

James said...

On top of this, there has been a resurgence of diseases like measles, which had been nearly wiped out in the US, thanks to the anti-vaccination movement that has been falsely claiming a connection between vaccines and a non-existant increase in autism.

Thanks to the scare mongering by people like Jenny McCarthy, US parents are refusing vaccinations for their children at a rate high enough to allow formerly controlled -- and potentially deadly -- diseases to spread.

The claim is that the ethyl mercury in Thiomersal, a preservative, causes autism. There are a few problems with this: first, ethyl mercury has never shown any biological effect in tests -- it's methyl mercury, a different compound, that is toxic, and even that does not produce autism-like effects; second, vaccine makers stopped using Thiomersal in vaccines in about ten years ago, but there hasn't been any drop in the rate of new autism cases since then; third, the whole "autism epidemic" is a myth, caused by bad reporting about the change in diagnostic criteria that moved several conditions formerly not considered to be autism under the "autism spectrum" category -- the actual rate of the conditions under "autism spectrum" hasn't changed.

The same problem has been happening in the UK, where several children have died from easily controlled diseases.

L-girl said...

Yes, that's a very serious problem, but with a very different cause.

I'd rather we didn't get into the autism/vaccination debate here, though, if that's ok, especially whether or not there is a rise in the rate of autism vs its diagnosis. It's complicated and I would rather not misrepresent or oversimplify the parents' point of view. Thanks.

Joe Grav said...

It's funny you posted this. Just a few hours ago, I was arguing with a friend who agrees with Phil Gramm's "mental recession" comments. He thinks that everything is great, and everyone is living better than they ever have.

L-girl said...

He thinks that everything is great, and everyone is living better than they ever have.

...when in fact gigantic portions of the US population have slipped into an irreversible underclass.

What does he say to the evidence to the contrary? Or does he just refuse to look at it?

James said...

What does he say to the evidence to the contrary? Or does he just refuse to look at it?

He just says the US is a "nation of whiners".

L-girl said...

He just says the US is a "nation of whiners".

They should shut up and realize how good they have it?

James said...

They should shut up and realize how good they have it?

Pretty much. His argument was, basically: exports are up, therefore the economy is in great shape.

Here's the statement, taken from a news report (so possibly edited):

You've heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession. We may have a recession; we haven't had one yet. We have sort of become a nation of whiners. You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline. [...]

Misery sells newspapers. Thank God the economy is not as bad as you read in the newspaper every day."


This guy is not only McCain's chief economic advisor, but he's also the brains behind the deregulation program which made the sub-prime mortgage crisis possible.

L-girl said...

It's practically Victorian in its mindset: the poor are poor because they're not industrious enough.

The USA is great, so if you live in the US and things are bad for you, it must be your own fault, because we've already told you things are great here!

The saddest part is how many people believe it.

James said...

The USA is great, so if you live in the US and things are bad for you, it must be your own fault, because we've already told you things are great here!

It works both ways -- there's a reason why Prosperity Gospel preachers do well in the US. I'm a good person, therefore God will shower me with riches!

Of coure, the only people showered with riches in those schemes are the preachers themselves...

Joe Grav said...

The saddest part is how many people believe it.

Yep...

impudent strumpet said...

Okay, but a) how did the tropical diseases get there in the first place, and b) how are they surviving in a temperate climate?

James said...

a) People travel to the tropics and bring them back.
b) Must of the US is subtropical, and quite hospitable to tropical diseases.

M. Yass said...

Not bad for the Greatest Nation on the Face of the Earth™, eh?

Greatest Nation, eh? Compared to, say, the Sudan, perhaps. Compared to the rest of the civilized world? Well, not so much, huh?

It never ceases to amaze me how much the rest of the civilized world is running circles around the U.S.

epimetheus said...

I was actually working on a project this spring about hookworms, one of the neglected tropical diseases, when I came across this article. I'm glad to see someone else is concerned about it.

Eliminating these poverty-promoting diseases was a big part of the "rise" of the south over the 20th century. The stereotype of lazy southerners was based in truth, because people in the south, as a population, were very sick.

Philanthropic efforts before WWI gave control efforts a jump start but it was the New Deal programs promoting industrialization and urbanization that did the heavy lifting.

It does significant good to treat hookworm infections and educate people about hookworm transmission, but it is far easier for public health officials if people are inclined to get jobs in the city instead of on a farm.

The same mechanism works for other neglected diseases. Malaria spreads by mosquito. When people move to the city and get a job in a factory, they are removed from the (literal) malarial swamp and can afford to put screens on their windows.

I hope I explained that well. I'm trying to keep this comment relatively short but there is a lot to say.

Today these neglected tropical diseases don't garner much attention because the people who get them can't afford health care. This is true in Africa and America. Even if there is a simple treatment (which isn't always the case), no for-profit company is going to manufacture a product for the poorest of the poor.

Poor people are usually sicker than rich people, even in a country like Canada where they have access to basic care. That people are infected with these diseases though, otherwise eliminated from the first world, is embarrassing.

Also, I'd like to add to the answer "b":

These diseases might be coming back with travellers and migrants, but it's very likely that they were never entirely eliminated from the US in the first place. It's just that we stopped looking for a very long time.

L-girl said...

Epimetheus, thank you for this excellent comment. I think I will highlight it in a post, so the discussion continues.

epimetheus said...

Thanks!

I'm not too shocked that the discussion stopped there. They wouldn't be neglected diseases if people thought they were interesting.

But when you promote the topic, it's like the small but dedicated groups of researchers making real progress on some of these.

You've got a great blog and it's in my reader now!

L-girl said...

Thank you!

Readers frequently remind me that just because a topic isn't avidly discussed, doesn't mean they aren't reading with interest. Sometimes there's just nothing you can say except "wow" or "oh, shit...".

Thanks for the comment and your feedback.