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Students foster awareness of illnesses

Dan Brombach | Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bagels, hot coffee and educational brochures about neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) welcomed students filing into DeBartolo Hall on Monday morning.

ND Fighting NTDs is raising awareness this week about diseases that plague undeveloped countries around the globe.

Club president Emily Conron said these diseases do not receive enough attention because people are not educated about their severity.

“When people watch the news, they hear about diseases like AIDS and malaria, not schistosomiasis, and so they think that NTDs are obscure,” Conron said. “Actually, NTDs affect more people than AIDS and malaria combined.”

The most common NTDs include leprosy and trachoma, according to the World Health Organization. Approximately 1.4 billion people in developing countries suffer from these illnesses, which could easily be treated in a wealthier country like the United States.

“All seven NTDs that we focus on can be treated with safe and effective drugs that already exist and which cost about 50 cents per person,” Conron said.

Lymphatic filariasis, a parasitic disease that causes grotesque swelling of the limbs, has already infected more than 120 million people worldwide, Conron said. Treatment is limited in some of the areas that need it most.

“The problem is getting these drugs to the people in need,” Conron said.

The club’s work on campus is a reminder of the global mission to eliminate NTDs, Conron said, and Notre Dame students can advocate for change.

“If the global community makes NTDs a priority, then there is no reason why we wouldn’t be able to eliminate them,” Conrod said. “NTDs are the equivalent of a best buy in global health.”

ND Fighting NTDs is putting on a series of events and lectures this week to educate students about ways to fight NTDs.

“Our goal is to try to get people talking about NTDs who might not have known or cared about them before,” Conron said.

To raise awareness, Five Guys at Eddy Street Commons will donate 15 percent of Wednesday’s profits from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. to NTD charities.

Fundraisers around campus this week will include a dessert sale in the LaFortune Student Center on Thursday, a face-painting booth on Irish Green on Friday and a collection at all Masses on Sunday.

“Donations are important, but outreach is key,” Conron said. “Contact your government representatives, advocate to pharmaceutical companies and spread the word however you can.”

Conron said the club wants to engage the student body in new ways during NTD Awareness Week.

“NTDs are an issue that we take very seriously,” Conron said, “But as college students, we recognize that in order for people our age to become fully invested in a cause, they need to be able to approach it in creative and unforeseen ways.”