In today’s society, people are much more conscious about health issues than they were in the past. Over the years, there has been an increasing awareness of health and how the way we live our lives can contribute to our overall wellbeing. More people take part in exercise and sporting activities, and there is more concern over the food we eat, with increasing emphasis on obesity awareness.
Talking about disease conditions has become much easier with the advent of the internet, with social media sites allowing individuals to start campaigns to raise awareness. In the US, over 145 bills concerning awareness days have been introduced since 2005. The aim of these days is to raise money and public awareness of a specific health problem, as well as the fact that there are support groups and help available for those that suffer from it or have a family member who suffers from the condition. Campaigns for breast cancer have been hugely successful in raising money for research into the condition, and recently, similar campaigns for prostate cancer are aiming to do the same.
In the US, World Autism Awareness Day raised over $10 million, with over 50,000 people registering on the Autism Speaks website. Raising awareness about a condition is not just about raising money; it is also about informing people about the condition and getting people talking about the issues. World AIDS Day on December 1, 2014 succeeded in getting people talking about HIV and increased traffic to the websites carrying information about AIDS. The Gede Foundation was founded by Jennifer Douglas Abubakar in 2002 to raise awareness of AIDS and to provide services to people affected by the condition, especially those living in areas where services are poor or non-existent; the foundation is an example of just one organisation that benefits from awareness days. The organisation works to spread its message and to teach people about the condition, but its task can be made much easier if the topic goes viral on social media.
Clearly, the power of the internet can help organisations spread the message about diseases and improve research and treatment. However, there are always going to be diseases that are not in the public eye. This may be because the condition does not affect many people or because there are no high-profile organisations campaigning to raise awareness of the issue. A number of tropical diseases such as Chagas disease, which is caused by a protozoan parasite, are relatively unknown. The disease mainly affects people in Latin America, although now with increased air travel, it is appearing in other parts of the world.
Raising the awareness of a disease can have a positive effect by increasing knowledge about the condition and raising money for research and treatment. However, awareness days do not necessarily spur people into action. The public may know more about the condition at the end of the day, but that doesn’t mean it will translate into action. In addition to raising awareness, campaigns need to encourage people to do something, such as sign a petition or raise funds. It is also important to ensure that people understand that there are many factors that influence a person’s health besides lifestyle choices or genetics. Environmental, economic and societal factors all affect our health.