Bangladesh, a dense country of more than 160 million on India’s eastern border, has seen remarkable development in recent decades. A growing economy and enormous improvements in maternal health and food security have raised the quality of life for millions of Bangladeshis. Now, less than a third of the quickly urbanizing population lives under the poverty line, down from more than half. Bangladesh aims to have officially become a middle-income country by 2021.
Thousands of Bangladeshis, however, still suffer and die from easily preventable diseases every year. While the nation’s expenditure on health increased significantly in the past two decades, it still comprises only 3.7 percent of the national GDP. Improving public health is the biggest focus of international aid in Bangladesh, accounting for roughly 43 percent of all assistance committed to helping the country. The following are some of the top diseases in Bangladesh and what the government and international organizations are doing to fight them.
Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that can be deadly, especially for young children, if improperly treated. According to USAID, Bangladesh has one of the highest infection rates in the world. The World Health Organization reported that tuberculosis is the leading cause of death in the country. In 2012, nearly 70 thousand Bangladeshis died from tuberculosis.
The Bangladeshi government and international aid organizations have labored to bring the tuberculosis rate down and save more patients, and they have seen tangible success. In the early 1990s, Bangladesh’s government established the National Tuberculosis Control Program (NTP) with the support of USAID, and today, 99 percent of people living in Bangladesh have access to effective detection and treatment services. USAID is continuing to provide funding for technology, infrastructure and drugs to control tuberculosis in Bangladesh, as well as prevent, detect and combat drug-resistant strains of the infection.
- Waterborne Diseases
Bangladesh has yet to provide much of its population with access to quality sewage and water infrastructure. Only 16 percent of Bangladeshis living in rural areas have access to up-to-par latrines. As a result, millions of Bangladeshis are at risk for waterborne diseases, including hepatitis A and E and a wide variety of serious bacterial infections like typhoid and leptospirosis.
Low water quality makes diarrheal diseases especially serious in Bangladesh. In fact, diarrhea is the seventh single biggest killer of children under 5 years of age in the country. According to Water.org, a nonprofit aiming to expand access to clean water globally, 100,000 children die from diarrheal diseases annually.
Heavy rain is normal in Bangladesh and frequent floods exacerbate waterborne diseases by overflowing dirty water supplies into clean reservoirs and residential areas. Sixteen provinces in Bangladesh have suffered from severe flooding this summer, and local news is reporting thousands of new cases of waterborne diseases, with scores of deaths.
The government and aid organizations are working to prevent the top diseases in Bangladesh primarily by widening access to clean water. UNICEF is working with the government to improve water infrastructure and also educate Bangladeshis about how to keep their water clean and avoid disease. Further, organizations like Water.org are providing grants and loans for sanitation projects across the country.
- Neonatal Sepsis
Neonatal sepsis refers to bacterial blood infections in newborn babies, and it is the fourth biggest cause of death for children under 5 years of age in Bangladesh. According to UNICEF, such infections are the leading cause of mortality for newborn babies in Bangladesh; 80,000 of whom die less than a month after birth each year. Many common bacteria can cause neonatal sepsis. While infections are serious, they are easy to treat as long as they are detected early, and preventing neonatal sepsis can be as simple as providing mothers with clean environments for giving birth.
Despite its struggle with neonatal sepsis, Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in maternal and neonatal health in the past 20 years and remains determined to improve obstetric care across the country. The nation has already achieved its millennium goals for maternal and child health and reduced child and maternal mortality by 60 percent since 1990. Bangladesh continues to upgrade obstetric health facilities and make them more accessible to citizens living in under-served regions.
A brief look at some of the top diseases in Bangladesh provides clear lessons about poverty and health. Simple and cheap improvements for health systems — things like basic antibiotics, proper latrines and clean places to give birth — can save millions of lives in developing countries.
Bangladesh still struggles with deadly diseases, but with determination, the country has already climbed beyond many of its goals and continues to promote public health and fight against preventable illnesses.
– Charlie Tomb