February 29th is Rare Disease Day: 4 Reasons You Should Care

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Before my daughter passed away from a rare disease I had never heard of “Rare Disease Day” and knew next to nothing about the impact rare disorders have on society. Over the past few years I have learned that rare diseases play a larger role in public health than most people realize and deserve consideration from the medical community, policy makers, and the general public.

A rare disease is defined by the National Institute of Health (NIH) as any disease that affects less than 200,000 people at a given time. The last day in February is an internationally recognized day set aside to raise awareness of the impact that rare diseases have on society. Here is what you need to know:

1. Rare diseases aren’t actually that rare.
While each individual rare disease affects only a small percentage of the population, there are over 7,000 rare diseases. When combined, they collectively affect 10% of the general population or 30 million people. Of these 30 million people, roughly half are children and 4.5 million of them won’t live to the age of five.

2. Of the 7,000 rare diseases only 4% have an effective treatment.
When my own daughter was finally diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder known as metachromatic leukodystrophy I momentarily felt a sense of relief. The agony of watching helplessly as her health declined and visiting expert after expert who all seemed baffled by her condition appeared to be at an end. Until the neurologist’s next piece of information. The disease is terminal. And there is no cure. While our family was “lucky” to have at least had a treatment option for slowing down the disease progression, there is little to nothing the medical community can do for the vast majority of children diagnosed with a rare —> Read More

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