Poverty and Immunity
Poverty emerges as a relentless enemy across nations, holding millions of lives at its mercy. While the implications of poverty on basic necessities have been studied, a consequence lies hidden within the fine lines of public health — the impact of poverty on the immune system. This article delves into the relationship between poverty and immunity in developing countries, exploring the lack of health measures, and how they intertwine to shape the vulnerability of populations. 

Poor Sanitation Leads to Poor Immunity

Two billion people across the world lack access to clean water and proper sanitation measures, while 10% of the world’s population does not have latrines or means of disposing of waste. The outright lack of sanitation in almost all cases results in pollution of water and food resources due to frequent open defecation and improper treatment. Then begins the vicious cycle of illness, as the constant presence of bacteria in communities can be fatal.

With the constant onslaught of diseases due to substandard sanitation, the bodies of impoverished people can grow weaker without nutrients to strengthen them. A study that Parasite Immunology published states that parasites known as helminths modify the immune system of the host, which results in a damaged immune response to vaccinations and other pathogens. 

Malnutrition and Immunity

Nourishing oneself is vital to provide nutrients to the body in order for several different organ and body functions to perform as normal. When a person does not ingest enough proper food, this can cause an entire host of issues for the body. 

Nutrients that the body needs in small amounts are known as micronutrients. They are small portions of vitamins and minerals that produce substances necessary for the development of the body. Deficiencies in these nutrients are common in low-income countries due to the lack of proper nutrition, which can have damaging effects. 

When there is a lack of nutrients in the body, infections that are contracted can prompt an immune reaction, showing another link between poverty and immunity. These infections can cause fever and bodily irregularities. Malnutrition is a major player in how severe an infection is — it is much more severe in those who have a lack of nutrients in their bodies to support the immune system’s counterattack. 

Limited Access to Health Care 

Without money, it is impossible to access health care across the world, especially as treatments evolve and become increasingly complicated. As a result, poor health restricts workers in developing nations from working properly — and this creates a merciless cycle, limiting one’s capacity to work to earn and to help themselves. Furthermore, several studies display that the wealthiest percentage of people are most often in good health because they are able to finance their health care while working. 

Another grave issue that lack of health care poses in developing nations is an absence of treatments for chronic and incurable diseases. Diseases such as HIV/AIDS are extremely common in poor nations, as they often spread unchecked without a timely preventative response. This results in unbridled death rates and a weakening population that cannot take care of themselves. 

With incurable diseases such as coronary heart disease and HIV/AIDS reigning at the top of prevalent diseases in developing countries, a lack of health care can cause the condition of populations to deteriorate. Both of these diseases gradually tear down the defenses of the immune system, and in the long term, carriers will be more susceptible to falling fatally ill from any disease in their path. 

Making a Change

Though the situation may seem bleak regarding the link between poverty and immunity, there are millions of people working to turn it around. Detailed below are three programs that aim to combat the lack of sanitation, widespread malnutrition and lack of health care that so many poverty-stricken people face. 

  • Sanitation: USAID uses the “Global Water Strategy” to reach people in need across all walks of life. The goal of this program is to increase access to sanitation measures and enhance the care of freshwater across the world. Thus far, the program has been able to provide 65 million people with sanitary drinking water, while 51 million people now have access to sanitation services for everyday excrement.
  • Malnutrition: In response to food insecurity crises across the world, USAID congregated to expend billions of dollars of aid to the countries that were most in need. This program, which was officially dubbed “Food for Peace,” provided millions of people who were severely affected by chronic and generational poverty with food during difficult times — whether they were climate-, conflict- or health-related.
  • Health Care: To combat diseases impairing the potential of impoverished populations, the Bridge of Life Foundation aims to build up global health care through programs that eradicate and treat chronic diseases. Since 2006, the organization has trained community health workers to treat their populations, distributed necessary equipment and improved treatment measures across 15 developing countries.

Looking Ahead 

With organizations such as USAID working to allocate funds and resources to populations in need of food and water and The Bridge of Life providing life-saving health care to struggling populations, the state of these populations will improve extraordinarily over time. By empowering communities and providing necessities, it is possible to break down health care disparities and ensure a thriving future for people in developing countries. 

– Divya Shankar
Photo: Pixabay