The American Autoimmune and Related Diseases Association (AARDA)
Rheumatoid arthritis is one of many autoimmune diseases (AD). In a normal immune response, white blood cells identify foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. They produce antibodies against these invaders so other cells can destroy them. In an autoimmune response, your white blood cells have difficulty distinguishing between foreign invaders and your own healthy cells – in essence, your body attacks itself.1
It is estimated that upwards of 22 million Americans suffer with an autoimmune disease and more than 80 ADs have been identified.2 Some of the most common autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, inflammatory bowel diseases, and psoriasis.3 The financial impact of these diseases is in the billions. Autoimmunity tends to more common in women and the ratio of women to men with RA is about 2.5 to 1.4 It is common for people to suffer with multiple autoimmune diseases.
Given the dramatic impact of autoimmune diseases on society and the interrelatedness of autoimmune diseases,5 it is important that awareness efforts be pursued. The American Autoimmune and Related Diseases Association, or AARDA, is the only non-profit organization devoted solely to raising awareness of autoimmune diseases. The mission statement of AARDA is as follows:
The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association is dedicated to the eradication of autoimmune diseases and the alleviation of suffering and the socioeconomic impact of autoimmunity through fostering and facilitating collaboration in the areas of education, public awareness, research, and patient services in an effective, ethical and efficient manner.
AARDA was founded in 1991 and a distinguished panel of experts and patients guides this organization.6 They provide clear and transparent financial information7 and received a 3 out of 4 stars on Charity Navigator.8 It is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Their administrative costs are low with most of the raised funds and in-kind donations going to education, public awareness, and research.9
The efforts of AARDA include funding research, organizing scientific exchanges, public advocacy, patient education, physician education, and public education.10 A detailed list of autoimmune diseases is provided. They maintain an active Facebook page. A toll free patient hotline (800-598-4668) provides instant access to information. Expert speakers are sponsored across the country. A variety of informative videos on a variety of topics are maintained at a YouTube site. The organization actively advocates for increased research spending by the federal government given the fact that autoimmune diseases receive a small portion of research funding when compared to other diseases and conditions.11 AARDA is currently collecting information on the impact of Obamacare on autoimmune disease patients (consider taking the survey).
AARDA is part of a coalition of non-profit organizations for autoimmune diseases called the National Coalition of Autoimmune Patient Groups.12 This coalition provides a consolidated voice for autoimmune diseases. While the Arthritis Foundation is part of this coalition, there appears to be no coalition non-profit organization devoted solely to rheumatoid arthritis. This represents a huge void for the RA community that needs to be filled.
Some may contend that rheumatoid arthritis needs personal attention and it’s own awareness systems. That argument is valid given that it’s one of the most common and debilitating autoimmune diseases. But given the interrelated nature of autoimmune diseases, it is also a wise idea to combine efforts in order to provide strength in numbers. Please check out AARDA, contemplate getting involved in their efforts, and consider donating.
In a future post, I will provide an overview of the Arthritis National Research Foundation.
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