From the intern desk…

Posted on July 11, 2011

Hello! Today Mary is posting. Recently, she’s been researching causes of disability in the developing world. She’s come up with a lot of information and is sharing a bit with us today.

Many people think of birth defects or injuries when they think of childhood disabilities. However, children can also become disabled from infectious diseases. This applies primarily to children in developing countries; the World Health Organization estimates that hundreds of millions of people, mainly in developing countries, are disabled by infectious diseases. These children suffer not only the pain and discomfort of the disease itself but also the stigmatization of resulting disabilities.

Rubella is a common disease in Ghana that can lead to disabilities in developing babies. If a pregnant woman contracts rubella during her first or second trimester, it is likely that the infant will be affected. In such a case, the child will suffer from a string of disabilities collectively called congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). The main symptoms of CRS are cataracts, auditory impairment, and heart disease, but CRS is also associated with severe developmental delays and mental retardation. With a combination of hardships from blindness, deafness, and mental retardation, the disease burden from CRS is high. Globally, CRS is a major cause of preventable hearing impairment and blindness. In a school for deaf in Madras, India, rubella was found to be the largest preventable cause of deafness (29% of 374 children).

CRS and its related disabilities are preventable. Yet, a study done in 2000 found CRS to be present (albeit underreported) at a hospital in Kumasi, Ghana. Why isn’t CRS being prevented in Ghana? Of course, funding is a major problem; large-scale rubella vaccination campaigns are costly. However, such a vaccination campaign may be less costly than disability treatments; cost-benefit studies have shown that rubella vaccinations have net benefits in both developed and developing countries (especially if rubella vaccinations can coincide with measles vaccination campaigns already in place). The current challenge is to accurately survey the incidence of rubella in Ghana; this information can provide evidence for the net benefit of a country-wide rubella vaccination campaign. If studies prove that a rubella vaccination campaign is cheaper than disability treatments and then a widespread vaccination campaign is instituted, there may be a great reduction in CRS cases.


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