‘Action’ Needed To Address, Treat Poverty-Related Infections Affecting Mostly Hispanic, Black Populations, Opinion Piece States
Poverty-related infections, which are "ordinarily thought of as health problems in less-developed countries," have become a "biological threat" among the indigent across the U.S., Peter Hotez -- president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and George Washington University Walter G. Ross professor and chair of microbiology, immunology and tropical medicine -- writes in a Baltimore Sun opinion piece. "The mainly Hispanic and [black] populations living in inner cities and rural areas are suffering from high rates of these ailments, known as the 'neglected infections of poverty,'" Hotez adds. "That these diseases exist in large numbers in the world's most prosperous nation is reason for shame and alarm -- and action," he writes. Examples of such diseases include:
- Chagas disease, an infection caused by a parasite that can lead to heart failure, for which hundreds of thousands of Hispanics are at risk;
- Cysticercosis, a brain infection caused by a tapeworm that is now a leading cause of epilepsy and seizures in Hispanics;
- Cytomegalovirus, or CMS, an infection acquired during pregnancy that can cause mental retardation and deafness in infants of infected women, for which black women have a fiftyfold greater risk than white women; and
- Toxocara parasite, an infection caused by a roundworm and linked to asthma that has infected up to 2.8 million blacks, mostly children, living in inner cities in the Mid-Atlantic and the South.
These neglected infections "are so named because they affect the voiceless poor and because they actually cause poverty by impairing child development and memory, causing bad pregnancy outcomes and harming worker productivity," Hotez writes, adding that the "high burden" of these infections, along with high rates of HIV/AIDS, "represent[s] an important reason why minorities often cannot escape poverty."
He continues, "Expanded national efforts are needed to determine the full extent of these neglected infections and then to find ways to prevent them, either with existing methods or by developing new drugs, diagnostics and vaccines." Hotez concludes, "We need to take measures -- soon -- to eliminate this most glaring of health disparities" (Hotez, Baltimore Sun, 9/28). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.