SepsisSepsis is a growing global threat according to the World Health Organization. While it is receiving more and more attention since it is the leading cause of death in intensive care units in high-income countries, sepsis in poor countries has the most severe impact.

Sepsis is a life-threatening illness that results from infection and causes the body’s organs to shut down. Some common symptoms are a high temperature, high heart rate and trouble breathing, on top of an infection.

The incidence of sepsis is on the rise in high-income countries. The United States experiences 750,000 cases of sepsis a year, and in Germany, sepsis is the third-leading cause of death and results in 60,000 deaths a year.

Although these numbers are concerning and certainly deserve attention, sepsis in poor countries is actually a greater problem. Poor living conditions, malnutrition and a high prevalence of infections exacerbate the problem of sepsis in poor countries.

Experts have limited data exploring sepsis in poor countries, but reports show that the standard of care differs greatly across lower and middle-income countries compared to high-income countries. One example looks at the tropical infection meliodosis, which often presents with sepsis and is endemic in an area with both low and high-income countries. The fatality rate for meliodosis with severe sepsis was 50 percent in Singapore versus 90 percent in a Thai clinical trial.

One way international experts are attempting to deal with sepsis is through the Surviving Sepsis Campaign (SSC) guidelines, which include recommendations on measures to both prevent and treat sepsis. However, implementing the recommendations requires certain resources that may be found in high-income countries but are often missing in middle and low-income countries.

Sepsis is a growing problem overall. Experts estimate the financial burden to be more than $24 billion, and it is even higher in developing countries. Another way that global health experts are tackling sepsis is through organizations like the Sepsis Alliance, a nonprofit that seeks to understand and treat sepsis better.

The presence of organizations like the Sepsis Alliance is an important step forward, but officials must especially focus on reducing the problem of sepsis in lower-income countries, which account for most of the problem and currently are receiving the least help.

Lauren Mcbride
Photo: Flickr