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The World Health Organization estimates that about 1 in 6 people on the planet lives with a permanent disability. On this International Day of Persons with Disabilities we took a look at 10 extremely common disabilities you may have never heard of.

Health officials affiliated with the United Nations tell us that over a billion people worldwide live with a serious disability, but the most serious disabilities are often conditions that people in the developed world never hear about. 

Here are ten conditions that affects tens or hundreds of millions of people in search of a cure.

1. Cleft lip and cleft palate.

A cleft is a separation of the lip or palate from the roof of the mouth. The cleft can affect either the lip or the palate, or both. Baby boys with the condition are most often born with both cleft lip and cleft palate, but baby girls with the condition are most commonly born with a normal lip and only a cleft palate.

About 1 in 600 babies in the USA is born with this condition, but it is much more common among Native Americans and Asians.

A relatively simple surgery can repair this facial deformity, but in much of the world it is simply not available. Organizations like Smile Train recruit doctors to perform corrective surgeries for free around the world.

2. Anal fistula, also known as fistula-in-ano.

An anal fistula is a essentially a second anus formed by the erosion of tissue between the rectum and the skin. It makes personal hygiene difficult, and as a result, people who have anal fistula often have to lead their lives in isolation, excluded from work and social opportunities.

The most common cause of anal fistula worldwide is the stress of childbirth, although the condition can occur in both men and women.

Millions of women are believed to suffer this condition in sub-Saharan Africa, although exact counts have not been made.

The definitive treatment of anal fistula is surgical, but long-term care after the operation is essential. Because of the location of the lesion, antibiotics are essential, and most patients also need some kind of ongoing anti-inflammatory medication. In the United States, the drugs most commonly prescribed after the surgery cost tens of thousands of dollars per year. In the developing world, treatment is extremely difficult.

3. Malaria.

Imagine having a case of flu that never really goes away. Every other day you experience chills and fever and excruciating headache, along with cough, night-sweats, joint pain, and chronic fatigue. 

That is the experience of approximately 400,000,000 people who have malaria. One of the major challenges in treating malaria is that it usually takes a combination of drugs to get rid of the malaria parasite, and serious complications have to be treated with drugs administered by IV. Still, progress is being made in treating this incredibly common parasitic infection.

4. Polio.

Fifty years ago, just about everyone knew someone who had had polio. While most people survived the disease, they might be left with limbs that just didn't work, because of the destruction of nerve tissue. And the symptoms of the disease might only show up 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years after the initial infection.

Polio is prevented by innoculation, but it has never completely disappeared.

Where war and famine interrupt medical care, it periodically reappears, striking primarily the very young.

In the seven countries where the virus still goes around, Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria, every year hundreds to thousands of children are struck by the disease. Only a majority die or suffer permanent disability, but even these few deaths and disabilities are preventable.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Cox-Singh J, Davis TM, Lee KS, Shamsul SS, Matusop A, Ratnam S, et al. Plasmodium knowlesi malaria in humans is widely distributed and potentially life threatening. Clin Infect Dis. Jan 15 2008. 46(2):165-71.
  • Dionisopoulos T, Williams HB. Congenital anomalies of the Ear, Nose and Throat. New York: Oxford University Press
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  • Mindmap by steadyhealth.com
  • Photo courtesy of Ed Yourdon by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/yourdon/2987128975/

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