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Two mystery diseases remind us health is a moving target | 

Flickr, an untrained eye

I’m old enough to remember when AIDS, initially called GRID (for gay-related immune deficiency), first appeared on the scene — and was either ignored or regarded as a disease only of concern to a ‘special minority.’ That was a big mistake.

Just in case you think today things are different and we fully understand what’s going on in the world of health, in global health, here are two stories of mysterious ailments to show you otherwise.

Kidney disease killing tens of thousands in Central America. As the Associated Press recently reported:

A mysterious epidemic is devastating the Pacific Coast of Central America, killing more than 24,000 people in El Salvador and Nicaragua since 2000 and striking thousands of others with chronic kidney disease at rates unseen virtually anywhere else. Scientists say they have received reports of the phenomenon as far north as southern Mexico and as far south as Panama.

Last year it reached the point where El Salvador’s health minister, Dr. Maria Isabel Rodriguez, appealed for international help, saying the epidemic was undermining health systems.

The ‘nodding disease’ of Northern Uganda. As Reuters reports from a rural community:

Lamwaka suffers from nodding syndrome, a disease of unknown origins and no known cure, which Ugandan authorities estimate affects more than 3,000 children in the country.

Named after its seizure-like episodes of head nodding, the disease, which mostly affects children between five and 15, has killed more than 200 children in Uganda in the past three years. Thousands of children in South Sudan are also sufferers.

The cause of these two mystery diseases may be discovered, and hopefully lead to successful efforts aimed at preventing and treating them.

But these two, somewhat obscure, reports should remind us of the need to remain vigilant, to pay attention to outbreaks that may seem like one-offs or of little importance to us. New diseases are actually emerging all the time, most of them failing to take root. But every once in a while….