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Why it's time to stop worrying about breast cancer and AIDS

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 6th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Nobody wants to die early. Unfortunately, early death is part of reality. Most victims are simply unlucky, and some are bearing the consequences of poor choices. Every case is tragic. Yet, what is most tragic of all may be the intense focus on the wrong diseases. Dollars spent to research cures of diseases affiliated with popular causes that kill few, means less to spend researching cures for the killers of many.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - We love to focus on the wrong diseases. HIV/AIDS, and breast cancer come to mind. These are indeed serious diseases that need funding to develop research and cures, however, they enjoy the good fortune of broad public awareness and brilliant marketing campaigns initiated by activists. As a result, research and cures for these illnesses are better funded and researched than many other diseases that kill far more people.

There is a tendency, and it isn't just in the United States, to focus on the wrong diseases. In many poor countries, tuberculosis and malaria, both serious killers that claim some two million lives per year, garner the most headlines. Politicians in those countries promise ever more finding and initiatives to combat these diseases while other, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) kill millions more.

Heart disease and other forms of cancer, besides breast cancer, kill the majority of people worldwide.

According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer kills less than 500,000 people worldwide each year. Meanwhile, over 7 million deaths were reported from other types of cancer, with lung, stomach, liver, and colorectal cancer each killing more individually then breast cancer.

AIDS kills about 1.8 million people per year while hypertension is responsible for 13 percent of all deaths worldwide, slightly more than all cancers combined. Heart disease of various forms kill about one-third of all people.

This means chances are you will die from a heart attack or another cancer, rather than breast cancer or AIDS. Despite that, charitable drives and public awareness campaigns garner hundreds of millions of dollars to fight these diseases. Everybody knows the pink ribbon is for breast cancer awareness and the red ribbon for HIV/AIDS. They even have special days and months dedicated to their awareness.

What color ribbon does hypertension get? What month is kidney disease awareness month? You'd be hard pressed to find the person on the street who knows.

For the record, Kidney Awareness Month is March (green ribbon) and Heart Disease Month is February (periwinkle ribbon). Where are their commercials and charitable drives? How many green and periwinkle ribbons do you see celebrities wearing?

Non-communicable diseases are the world's largest killers, by far. The poor also tend to be disproportionally victimized by those diseases. Poor nutrition, lack of access to preventable health care services, costly medications that are difficult to obtain, these factors all conspire against those in low socioeconomic standing to bring early deaths to people, and that's just in America.

Five years ago, the United Nations set forth a declaration that they wished to see deaths from NCDs reduced by 25 percent worldwide by the year 2025. While momentum has built, thin finances and the politics of disease have hampered success.

Much of the money sent to Africa for example, has been to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Without a question, that epidemic is serious, but fortunately the world is inching closer to a cure even as we speak.

At the same time, it must be appreciated that other diseases kill more Africans than AIDS. Perhaps the time has come to reevaluate what resources are being spent on fighting less deadly, yet more widely popular diseases, and devote an increasing share to those diseases which affect greater numbers of people.

In other words, the proposal is to take a little from the rich, pet causes that are popular with politicians and celebrities, and spend that money on diseases that are far more likely to kill you and your family.

Some private organizations aren't waiting for the government to catch up. One new startup organization known as "Buy a Dose, Give a Dose" is preparing to allow individuals to purchase medicines that will be shipped to humanitarian missions around the world. Vaccinations for children, flu shots for the elderly, medications to treat hypertension, and chemotherapy, will be available alongside treatments for malaria, polio, and HIV/AIDS.

Recipients can be located anywhere in the world where humanitarian missions operate to distribute the medications, which will even include low-cost and charitable clinics in the United States.

For now, such endeavors remain in their infancy, barely preparing to launch this year. However, governments and people can act now to stem the toll NCDs take. The best course of action would be to recognize that NCDs are far more likely to kill you and your loved ones, and that a new emphasis must be placed on treating and preventing these illnesses, worldwide.

Millions of doses of HIV drugs are sent to the third world each year, but what about drugs to treat hypertension? What about chemotherapy for cancer victims, and dialysis treatments for those with kidney disease. The world needs more of those too.

For millions of people who die this year, the shift in thinking will come too late. For many others however, there is still time for people to save others, and themselves, that is if they think clearly enough - and act appropriately.

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