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WHO Report: Underfunded Neglected Diseases Need A Marketing Makeover

A research paper in this month's Bulletin of the World Health Organization suggests that, when it comes to disease funding, perception is reality.

Some diseases get more than their fair share of government and nonprofit funding: HIV/AIDS received more than one-third of health donations in the early 2000s despite a mortality rate of about five percent, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) got bookoo bucks though it killed just a few hundred people.

Meanwhile good luck finding money for pneumonia or diarrhoeal diseases â€" which kill millions of people despite the fact that treatments are readily available.

The WHO paper blames it all on positioning. If you want money, your disease's actual deadliness isn't nearly as important as its perceived deadliness.

Drug makers have long understood the relationship between money and disease positioning. If people can't talk about your disease without blushing, or if they don't think it's a "real disease," then they're not going to ask the doctor for your pills. Hence Pfizer rebranded impotence as erectile dysfunction to sell Viagra (sildenafil), and Auxilium Pharmaceuticals promoted hypogonadism as Low-T to sell Testim (testosterone gel).

The WHO paper offers a few more branding tips. Specifically, more funding goes to diseases that are "not only a public health problem but a fundamental threat to human well-being, national security and/or economic development."

And keep your target audience in mind. The paper suggests that:

A finance minister may be swayed to address an issue by a cost-effectiveness argument, an epidemiologist by the potential for public health impact and a civil society activist by a rights-based claim.
But as in the world of drug sales, it's important not to take things too far. Credibility and salience remain the most important positioning factors.

Perception vs Reality photo by FLickr user renzo358, CC.