February 28 is Rare Disease Day. This year’s theme is “With research, possibilities are limitless.” This is true, but, unfortunately, research is also expensive and difficult. What can we do to help cure rare diseases?
Consider the Possibility
Imagine if you or a loved one had a disease where information about it was rare and hard to come by. Where your doctor was just as bewildered as you are. It’s a frustrating position to be in, but most people don’t think it will happen to them—after all, rare diseases are (by definition) rare.
While you have a minuscule chance of contracting any single rare disease, there are so many rare diseases that your chances of being affected by at least one is pretty high. 30 million people in Europe have at least one rare disease.
If you have been diagnosed with a rare disease, you know how frustrating getting information can be. If you just have an undiagnosed problem, that is stumping your physicians, it can be even worse. You understand that the unthinkable can and does happen to you and people you love. So, what can you do to help fight rare diseases?
If you have a rare disease diagnosis, share what information you have about your disease and its treatment. For many rare diseases, a standard treatment protocol doesn’t exist. So, let people know what works for you and, importantly, what doesn’t work for you. People often are happy to share successes but not failures. However, the failures are just as important—they allow other people to skip the steps you went through.
Encourage (and Allow) Your Doctor to Share Information
Privacy laws vary from country to country and your doctors won’t violate those laws by talking about you specifically, unless you give them permission to do so. Why is this important? Because while they can talk about Patient X, a 35-year-old female with Sabinas Brittle Hair Syndrom, it’s a lot more influential if your doctor can give a presentation and talk about your specifics. Why? Because then you are a real person. A human being with feelings and a family and struggles related to real life and your disease.
Donate Money and Time
Most of us aren’t sitting on piles of cash, but if you are, consider giving some of that cash to help with rare disease research. Because each disease is rare, there isn’t enough money to go around to research each one. If you aren’t sitting on a pile of cash, you can still contribute what you can, or contribute something else valuable—your time.
How can you help if you’re not a doctor or a scientist? Well, you can help raise funds. You can share your experiences with your disease.You can help a friend who is suffering from a difficult condition. Something as simple as offering someone a ride to the doctor, or sitting in and taking notes while your friend talks with her doctor can be an invaluable help.
Contact Your Elected Officials
Politicians are all about being re-elected. They care about what their constituents care about. So, make sure they know about rare diseases. Pharmaceutical companies are happy to spend money researching treatments for common ailments because they know that if they find a successful drug they will earn back their investment, and more. But a rare disease treatment costs just as much to research without the added benefit of a high return on investment. Therefore, rare disease research often needs help from governments and charities.Let your government know that your disease affects someone in her area. It might help.
Rare diseases touch just about everyone’s lives. Let the search for cures touch everyone’s lives as well.