A recent opinion article in JAMA Neurology declares that Parkinson’s disease may soon be a global pandemic as the world’s population ages and more and more people are diagnosed with PD. Compared to the growth rates of other neurological disorders (e.g., Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, stroke), new cases of Parkinson’s are increasing at a faster pace than the rest of the pack.
Currently, almost 7 million people worldwide have PD. This is about twice as many as were diagnosed with the disease in 1990 (about 3 million then). The authors project that by 2040 the number of Parkies will double to about 14 million. “Regardless of the exact numbers,” the authors write, “if PD were an infectious condition, it would rightly be called a pandemic.”
The two authors say that the PD community needs to come together and respond to the situation in a way similar to what AIDS activists did in the 1980s, when they forced the drug companies and government to act more decisively. The article suggest that the Parkinson community agitate for the following:
- Find out how to prevent the onset of PD. While a few Parkies were susceptible to getting Parkinson’s because of genetic factors, the government and researchers have to step up their game to verify other causes, such as a particular diet, exposure to pesticides and other toxic chemicals, and maybe lifestyle choices.
- Make it easier and less costly to receive appropriate medical care. This applies not only to Parkies living in poor or undeveloped countries, but even in rich nations like the United States. To quote from the article: “In wealthy nations such as the United States, more than 40% of individuals older than 65 years with PD do not see a neurologist, and those who do not are more likely to fall, be placed in a skilled nursing facility, and die.”
- Pressure the government to spend more on research. This is something the AIDS activists in the 1980s were good at. Again, to quote from the article, “Today the National Institutes of Health devotes approximately $3 billion to HIV research. PD, which affects roughly half as many Americans, receives less than $200 million.”
- Reduce the cost of PD medications. There are countries around the world which cannot supply any PD meds, even levodopa, to their citizens with PD because it’s too costly.
It’s all a question of becoming a political activist and working with fellow Parkies and our supporters, to pressure the national governments and pharmaceutical industry. If you know of people already doing this, please leave a comment about it at the bottom of this blog post. I, for one, am ready to roll up my sleeves. I’ve written my congressional representatives when I received prompts from the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and, of course, I’m an official blogger for the World Parkinson Congress.
But I’d like to be doing more.
I’ll include the article’s entire final paragraph as a conclusion:
“Such activism is beginning to emerge in the Alzheimer disease community, but for too long, the PD community has been too quiet on these issues. Building on the AIDS community’s motto of “silence equals death,” the PD community should make their voices heard. The current and future burden of this debilitating disease depends on their action.”