A major issue in global health is the disproportionate allocation of research funding and efforts between diseases. Specifically, it is estimated that only 10% of health research is devoted to conditions causing 90% of the global disease burden. This inequality is referred to as the 10/90 Gap.
Advocates bringing attention to the 10/90 Gap argue that diseases primarily impacting developing countries are neglected and drastically under-researched and underfunded compared to other diseases. As world leaders increasingly prioritize humanitarian crises like poverty and illness, there is potential to transform how the international community responds.
Neglected Tropical Diseases: The Example of Sleeping Sickness
One example is African trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, identified by the World Health Organization as a neglected tropical disease. Sleeping sickness is found in 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and spreads through tsetse fly bites. Rural populations living near livestock are at highest risk, and also tend to face poverty and inadequate healthcare access.
Sleeping sickness has caused multiple epidemics, most recently from 1970-1990. After this epidemic ended, the WHO, national governments, and NGOs made progress in controlling the disease. From 2000-2012, new cases dropped 73%. The WHO set a goal to eradicate sleeping sickness by 2020 through their neglected tropical disease initiative. This target is ambitious but achievable with sufficient global health research prioritization and investment.
Taking Action to Address the Imbalance
In summary, sleeping sickness exemplifies a curable disease that persists mainly due to neglect. It is one of many diseases which could be overcome if the 10/90 Gap were addressed and more resources allocated equitably based on global need. Individuals can help by donating to organizations coordinating medical relief in underserved regions. The goal is for medicine to be available based on need rather than politics, religion, race or other factors. Collective action is needed to rectify global health inequalities.