The Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS is all the rage right now. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see a post on my personal Facebook page with someone pouring ice over his or her head and daring someone else to do it. It seems that every celebrity is getting on board ranging from Bill Gates to Lady Gaga. To date, over $22 million has been raised by this strategy. This got me thinking about why RA and related autoimmune diseases can’t get this sort of public attention.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease after the famous baseball player. According to the ALS Association, 5,600 people are diagnosed with ALS each year in the United States and it is estimated that 30,000 some people currently live with the disease. It is true that half of all people diagnosed with ALS will die within a few years and it is a most devastating disease.
However, the impact of RA on Americans is vast compared to many other diseases. Over 1.5 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and upwards of 23 million suffer from an autoimmune disease. Arthritis is the leading cause of disability and work limitations in the United States. The financial impact on the workplace and personal lives of those affected is close to 100 billion dollars annually. There are over 10,000 arthritis related deaths every year.  The direct healthcare costs of autoimmune diseases are estimated at $100 billion annually compared to $57 billion annual for cancer. Autoimmune diseases receive much less research funding annually than cancer – about $800 million dollars in research funding every year compared to all cancers funding at $7 billion.
There are many diseases worthy of public attention and research funding. And ALS is certainly one of those. But I am frustrated by the lack of public attention and funding for autoimmune diseases in general and RA specifically. Can’t someone come up with a promotion for RA that will grab the public’s attention?