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Why do people still die of rabies?

Stashed in: The World, Poverty, Freakonomics

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Excruciatingly painful death but not enough profit in eliminating it...

Unfortunately most of the people who do get rabies, or are at risk of getting rabies, are very poor. The economic incentives to eliminate the disease globally, or to improve treatment, or to create better infrastructure to administer treatment, just don’t exist. That makes rabies a Neglected Tropical Disease.

“Neglected diseases fall outside the market,” Mary Moran, World Health Organization (WHO) expert on research and development wrote in the Financial Times last fall. “They aren’t commercial and consequently patents and profit play no role in stimulating innovation. Like all non-commercial areas, these diseases are the responsibility of governments and philanthropy (including industry philanthropy).”

But if governments and philanthropists were doing this effectively, these diseases would not be “neglected.” WHO has an official Neglected Tropical Diseases list, from which the “big two” tropical diseases, HIV and malaria, are conspicuously absent. That’s because HIV and malaria are kind of enjoying the global spotlight: there are large foundations, research, and treatment efforts dedicated to them and their sufferers. It’s a strange thing to say about deadly illnesses but HIV and malaria are, in some sense, kind of glamorous.

There’s debate on what officially qualifies as a Neglected Tropical Disease, but this is the WHO’s list:

Chagas disease

Human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness)


Buruli ulcer

Leprosy (Hansen disease)




Dracunculiasis (guinea-worm disease)


Foodborne trematodiases

Lymphatic filariasis

Onchocerciasis (river blindness)


Soil-transmitted helminthiases

Dengue and Chikungunya


These diseases have never been in a GAP commercial. In fact, you’ve probably never even heard of many of them, or at least not thought of them as something that “people still get.” But they do.

Sad. Diseases that are not "economically enriching" enough to eliminate.

This is one of the failures of capitalism. 

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