According to the World Health Organization (WHO), communicable diseases are those that are spread from person to person through “microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi.” These diseases, also known as infectious diseases, disproportionately impact developing countries. Based on 2001 data from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 98.6% of the burden of infectious diseases arose in low and middle-income countries. Some of the most common communicable diseases burdening developing countries are tuberculosis, respiratory tract infections, malaria, HIV/AIDS and most recently, COVID-19.
Although the global burden of communicable diseases reduced by about 44% from 1990 to 2019, there is still a long way to go. Fortunately, there are numerous techniques to combat communicable diseases and alleviate the burden on underdeveloped nations across the globe. Here are five ways to combat communicable diseases in developing countries.
5 Ways to Combat Communicable Diseases in Developing Countries
- Promoting Hand-Washing: Although it seems simple, hand-washing is a highly effective way of hindering the spread of disease and is not always as commonly practiced as it may seem. About 2.3 billion people around the world do not have access to hand-washing facilities. This may be due to a lack of infrastructure or lack of access to clean, sanitized water sources. Hand-washing is one of the cheapest public health interventions available to solve this issue. In fact, WHO states that, with less than one dollar per year invested, “all households in the world’s 46 least developed countries could have hand-washing facilities by 2030.” This money could go toward building facilities in houses and hospitals or educating people on the importance of hand-washing.
- Improving Housing: Many people in developing countries have to live in unsafe conditions. As mentioned earlier, many households lack facilities with clean water, as well as other necessities like proper waste disposal and heating. These conditions create breeding grounds for bacteria and insects or rodents that carry diseases. Many people also must live in crowded houses due to their low income. Crowding makes it easier for respiratory illnesses like tuberculosis to spread. Addressing these issues could include creating temporary housing facilities for the homeless that are better regulated and sanitary. A more long-term solution would be building houses that are sustainable, affordable and safe. It is worth mentioning that the construction of new housing should involve the community at all stages and be adaptable to the local environment.
- Providing Vaccines: With the recent spread of COVID-19, the importance of vaccines is clearer than ever. According to the UN, only around 1% of people in low-income countries received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by 2022. This contrasts with the 60.18% of people in high-income countries that received at least one dose. Not only does vaccine inequity prevent developing countries from slowing the spread of communicable diseases, but it also affects countries economically. 2022 data from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) shows that Nigeria, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan lost 19.87 billion in GDP due to unequal access to vaccines. Without vaccination, lockdowns last longer, and people continue to get sick, forcing them to miss work. The European Investment Bank is working to establish local facilities for the development of vaccines. A new facility at the Institut Pasteur de Dakar in Senegal is an example of how developing countries can become more self-reliant in the production of vaccines.
- Access to Treatment: While preventing the spread of diseases is the first priority, there is also a need for better access to treatment once people contract the diseases. Health care often does not receive enough funding in developing countries which leads to more negative health outcomes. These areas face a lack of equipment, doctors and proper training. In addition, many people are unable to pay for treatment or live in remote areas. Christophe Paquet, Head of Health & Social Protection for the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), notes that the health care sector is “highly dependent on international aid.” The AFD is supporting health care programs in developing countries by renovating facilities, providing access to training for nurses and reducing costs incurred by procedures. For example, they currently cover 80% of the cost of a Cesarean section, a procedure that can save many women’s lives.
- Providing Education: In order for any intervention to be successful in the long run, it should be coupled with educational efforts. One contributor to the communicable disease burden in developing countries is a lack of understanding of how these diseases spread and how efforts can prevent them. Having accessible, easy-to-understand information about public health allows individuals to recognize signs of illness and take preventative measures. More general education may also promote longer lifespans and more positive outcomes. Reaching tertiary education, in particular, reduces infant mortality and improves child vaccination rates.
These are just a few methods that can help ease the burden of communicable diseases on low-income populations. The U.S. can do its part by providing aid and funding for health-related interventions, much like the AFD in France. Alongside aid, education should be at the center of all of these methods to empower countries to fight these diseases locally.
– Yesenia Aguilera