The Solution To World Wide Problems Is Simpler Than You Might Think

Student OpinionChristina Kochanski was a member of Wilde Lake’s Class of 2013. She is currently enrolled at the University of Notre Dame. She first became interested in Neglected Tropical Diseases in her Common Human Diseases class.

Over one billion people are afflicted with a deadly or disfiguring Neglected Tropical Disease. That is enough people to fill up the Raven’s M&T Bank Stadium over 14,000 times. Yet these 17 devastating diseases receive relatively little media attention in America, simply because their reach does not extend outside of developing countries. We Americans do not see the impact of NTDs as we do with HIV/AIDS, so NTDs slip through the cracks in our awareness. The consequences are tragic.

They are tragic because NTDs can cause blindness and permanent limb disfigurement that prevent a person from finding a job or starting a family. They are tragic because we have the cures for these diseases but lack the resources to transport them to the people in need (pharmaceutical companies even donate the medicine for many of the diseases). They are tragic because it would only cost on average 50 cents to treat a person with an NTD for a year, yet adults and children die every day from these diseases. But the most disturbing aspect of the NTD problem is how easily these deaths escape our awareness.

Similar to most problems, solving this one requires money. Money to treat individuals, money to train local doctors, money to raise public health and hygiene standards. NTD eradication is not going to receive the funding it needs unless people are made more aware of this problem. So while much focus is on finding cures for other diseases such as AIDS and malaria – an important cause, certainly – what is the point of curing a disease if we will not make the necessary effort to get the cures to the people in need? Our treatment of the NTD problem sets a troubling precedent. Now that we have cured the diseases, do we consider our job done? We have done our part, so the rest is someone else’s problem? It is this type of attitude that prevents global progress and improvement.

Unfortunately, this attitude and a general lack of awareness of international problems are rampant in our country the same way that NTDs are rampant in developing countries. After the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, American media and charities responded with a brief flurry of action. But the attention and funding faded while the Haitian people still struggled to survive. Our initial response satisfied our consciences so that we would not feel guilty about later ignoring the situation’s – and the people’s – cries for help.

I will admit that if I read about NTDs when I was in high school, I would not have given them a second thought. I would feel sympathy for the affected people, but that would be the extent of the impact of this information. However, now that I have researched the diseases and seen pictures of the death and disfigurement that they can cause, the desire to help the people is inescapable. These pictures forced me to face the reality of these diseases. I could no longer cower behind my ignorance and use that as an excuse for inaction. It was at first difficult for me to step outside of my comfort zone and devote energy to problems that did not appear to affect me directly. But once I learned a little more about the horrific impact of NTDs, I realized that a solution to this problem requires everyone’s help. Therefore NTDs affect everyone; I was simply refusing to admit to any personal responsibility.

I can only ask that you too will take a few steps out of your comfort zones. It is easy to become wrapped up in high school – the grades, the social pressures, the extracurricular activities – but it is critical that everyone consider the troubling world outside of the Wilde Lake community. If you would like to help with NTDs, the first step towards a solution is simple: Raise awareness among your peers. This could be formal or informal. Start a club here at Wilde Lake, get a group of students to write letters to Congress, or simply ask your friends if they have heard of NTDs. No action is too small; raising an issue at the grassroots level can help bring it to the nation’s awareness. Hopefully we can raise NTD’s out of the “neglected” category and give the affected people the attention they need and deserve.