It is difficult to define what constitutes a “rare disease” because the definition varies broadly, usually by country or region. In general, a rare disease is any disease that affects a very small percentage of a given population. An estimated 72% of rare diseases are genetic, or congenital, frequently affecting people throughout their lives (rarediseaseday.org); many of these diseases present at birth or in infancy and an estimated 30% of children with rare diseases will not live to see their fifth birthday (SIOP Europe). It is estimated that between 3.5-5.9% of the world population will be affected by a rare disease during the course of their lives (rarediseaseday.org). Rare diseases are usually chronic, disabling, progressive and degenerative, as well as frequently life-threatening: Furthermore, the very nature of rare disease is isolating, necessarily. Rare Disease Day and its backing organizations aim to acknowledge these points as realities by addressing them on the global stage: By doing this, people fighting the same rare diseases can be brought together from diverse geopolitical backgrounds to fight toward empowerment and equity as a unified and powerful force.
Rare Disease Awareness Day is integral not only for raising awareness about rare diseases but also for bringing all of humanity together for the improvement of hundreds of millions of lives. I personally struggle with several potentially life-threatening rare diseases and I agree very much with NORD that although we are “rare alone,” we are an unstoppable force when we all work together. You can find much more information about Rare Disease Awareness Month and Rare Disease Day by visiting rarediseaseday.org. You can also visit NORD at rarediseases.org to find additional resources including a searchable rare disease database. Information about the 16 aforementioned “Rare Disease Community Heroes” is also featured on the Rare Disease Day website where you can also find remote or local events leading up to and on Rare Disease Day. This website features an immense array of resources, including information regarding the 2030 UN Rare Disease Health Initiative and even information about how the public and private sectors as well as individuals can light their buildings and homes on February 28 to show their own colors and join together in both strength and solidarity in this important global movement.