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PLOS BLOGS Speaking of Medicine and Health

Poverty, Infections and Inequality in the World’s Richest Country

In a compelling editorial published this week in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases Peter Hotez  draws attention to the infections of poverty as the latest affliction affecting the poorest people in the world’s wealthiest country, the USA.

Source: Map created by Jessica Schwartz, The George Washington University doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0000843.g001

Outside of the US, Washington, D.C. and the Gulf Coast are, respectively, more likely to be thought of as the seat of global power or as the home of endless sunshine. By contrast, Hotez argues that “Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the BP oil disaster have shed light on a tragic level of poverty in the northern Gulf of Mexico” and that “Washington, D.C., rivals Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama as among the worst in terms of life expectancy and health index”. His list of the diseases common in these communities is stark, and shaming -Trichomoniasis, Toxocariasis, congential toxoplasmosis and cytomegalovirus – even leaving aside the “astonishing” prevalence of HIV- 6.5% of African American males in Washington, D.C..

His conclusion is hard to disagree with: “The fact that we know so little about the neglected infections of poverty in America’s most distressed areas is representative of just how glaring these conditions are as health disparities.”

  1. I certainly agree that Washington is thought of often outside the US, and has a stereotype of power, although a shift may be occurring in terms of whether it is seen as *the* center of global power. Time will tell. As for the Gulf Coast, however, the generalization of its being thought of as a land of eternal sunshine is hard to justify in the sense that it is not thought about at all. We are talking about subjective impressions, of course, but I have had people in Europe and Africa refer to it more as the land of destructive hurricanes, tropical storms, conservative attitudes, and poverty. I have also met much ignorance about this part of the country (both from US citizens and foreigners!) The comment about the land of sunshine seems to refer more to the Southwest. Of course it would take time for either of us to gather objective data to prove our points. I think that there is tremendous lack of knowledge that DC is far more than Georgetown, Pennsylvania Ave., and the Smithsonian, and people are shocked to hear about the “hidden” parts of the city.

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