There’s a movement in the United States against obesity; people are raising awareness about cancer and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); millions are marching against the dangers of smoking and teen pregnancy. But there is a serious health concern affecting the poorest in the country, and some experts say it is deliberately being ignored.
The issue at hand has to do with neglected tropical diseases, and despite the word “tropical” many of these illnesses are common in the United States–people just rarely hear about them.
According to the World Health Organization, there are 17 neglected tropical diseases, and these include: dengue/severe dengue, rabies, chagas disease, human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), leishmaniases, cysticercosis/taeniasis, dracunculiasis (guinea-worm disease), echinococcosis, foodborne trematodiases, lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis (river blindness), schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiases, buruli ulcer, leprosy (Hansen disease), trachoma, and yaws.
A report from VICE indicates in the South and along the Gulf Coast of the United States, and especially among black and Hispanic communities, neglected tropical diseases are seen often but ignored, generally because they are only affecting the poorest communities.
“Theyre actually the most common afflictions of poor people,” said Dr. Peter Hotez of the Sabin Vaccine Institute. “The problem is theyre only occurring among poor people, so theres no real attention being paid. One of the things that was so powerful for HIV/AIDS was that you had a very strong advocacy group that began in the US, North America, and Europe, and you dont have that for these diseases, because theyre only occurring among the extremely poor.One of my studies has shown that some of the highest numbers of neglected tropical diseases are occurring among the poor who live in wealthier countries, including the United States. These are not only the afflictions of sub-Saharan Africa.”
According to Hotez, it’s not that these diseases are suddenly popping up in the United States. The fact is these illnesses have been here for a while now, and not only do they primarily affect the poorest communities, neglected tropical diseases may actual cause poverty.
“Well, one of the things I say is that these diseases not only occur in the setting of poverty; we now also have strong evidence to show that they have caused poverty. Diseases like Schistosomiasis, which is a parasitic worm infection, hookworm, and another one called Toxocariasiswhich occurs among the poor in the USactually reduce intelligence. They reduce IQ among kids, and there are studies to show that when chronic infections occur in childhood [they can] reduce future wage earning by 40 percent. The others make people too sick to go to work,” Hotez explained to VICE.
He added that these neglected tropical diseases are one of the unrecognized reasons why billions of people remain in poverty, but because middle and upper-class people aren’t affected as often, few efforts are made to treat those who are currently in need.
“If these were diseases that were striking the middle class or wealthy people in North America or England, or elsewhere in Europe, we would never tolerate it. But because theyre only occurring among the poorest of the poor they go unseen,” said Hotez. “…you know, (there are) 50,000 Central American children now being detained at the border of Mexico. One of their rationales for deporting the kids is that theyre going to introduce all these diseases, but in fact the diseases are here and theyve been here for a very long time. “
Neglected tropical diseases, according to experts, are improperly named. They can occur regardless of climate and are more aptly dubbed “diseases of extreme poverty.” According to U.S. Census Bureau reporting, as many as 1 in every 5 American children are living in poverty, and 1.65 million households are currently trying to survive on less than $2 a day budgets.