tropical diseases, intellect, and the future

Ntds2Harriet Washington at The American Scholar:

One dramatic health difference between rich and poor countries is the prevalence of neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs, which afflict a billion people worldwide, most of whom live in the kind of extreme poverty that characterizes the Global South.

Apocalyptic images of dramatic medical crises such as AIDS and Ebola captivate the West and spur altruism, but when it comes to the NTDs that chronically compromise health and challenge mental abilities, our myopia has been profound. Ebola-racked Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone also harbor the highest-known concentrations of hookworm victims. Since 2013, 11,000 people have died from Ebola in sub-Saharan Africa, but 10 million people—nearly half the population of these countries—suffer from at least one NTD or malaria or both. And NTDs plague extremely poor denizens of the subtropics not only of sub-Saharan Africa, but also of Saudi Arabia, Brazil, India, China, Indonesia, and Mexico. They are, in the words of Peter Hotez, the dean at Baylor, “great disablers rather than killers.”

Yet the HIV disease prevalent on the African continent and throughout the developing world deranges thinking, too. Children who acquire HIV prenatally from their mothers risk central nervous system disease that can cause a spectrum of brain dysfunction from encephalopathy to subtle cognitive impairment.

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