Tuberculosis in Impoverished CountriesThe largest infectious cause of death in the world is Tuberculosis (TB), resulting in over 4,000 deaths a day. Many factors make people living in poverty more susceptible to undiagnosed and untreated active TB, notably its interaction with HIV/AIDS. A lack of information and adequate healthcare systems also make Tuburculosis in impoverished countries a major threat, requiring a rapid response from the global community.

10 Facts About Tuberculosis in Impoverished Countries

  1. Tuberculosis is more common in impoverished countries. People in severe poverty often live and work in crowded areas with poor ventilation, which are the optimal conditions for the spread of TB.  They’re also more susceptible to conditions that lower their immune systems such as malnutrition or other infectious diseases. These factors make them more likely to catch and spread TB, as well as less likely to be able to fight it.
  2. COVID-19 is expected to increase TB. Two large effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are economic crises and quarantining. For people living in poverty, quarantining can increase the transmission of TB as households may be more crowded with less ventilation. Losing one’s job can increase undernutrition or malnutrition which lowers your resistance to TB.
  3. The cure rate is low in developing countries. The cure rate for TB in many developing countries is less than 50%. This is a result of many factors, but it is mainly because of a combination of the fear and stigma around TB in impoverished countries. It leads to delayed treatment or refusal to seek treatment, and inadequate healthcare systems in place that are tasked with treating the disease.
  4. TB often spreads because of delayed treatment or refusal to seek treatment. A person with active TB can spread it to 10-14 people a year, which may not seem like a lot, but allows cases to multiply in places that are suffering from other lethal infectious diseases as well. This makes tuberculosis in impoverished countries more deadly and harder to treat.
  5. TB interacts with HIV. HIV patients develop active TB at a much higher rate. The progression of TB and HIV is sped up when a person has both diseases, which usually leaves little room for treatment in countries that are struggling to provide adequate healthcare. Almost 70% of HIV-positive people live in sub-Saharan Africa, where 41% of people live in poverty. The risk of getting TB increases 19-fold when a patient also has HIV because of their weakened immune systems and their environment. Of reported TB cases, 56% have been among those who are also HIV-positive. This leads to at-risk individuals contracting both of these diseases which are much more difficult to treat together.
  6. Drug-resistant TB is on the rise. A strain of the TB that is resistant to the traditional course of antibiotics is starting to spread. It is particularly dangerous for people with TB in impoverished countries because many may not have adequate resources or information to follow their TB treatment methods. This results in infectious, drug-resistant strains that are harder to treat. When a drug-resistant strain of TB appeared in the U.S. during the 90s, the quick government response helped to decrease cases by 67% over five years. A similar approach would help to quell the current spread of TB in impoverished countries by providing resources that lead to better diagnoses and tracking of new infections.
  7. TB is curable and preventable. The reason people in developed countries don’t hear a lot about TB is because developed countries have better-funded healthcare systems. These systems can monitor for the disease effectively and have access to drugs that can treat it quickly. More than 95% of all TB cases and deaths happen in developing countries where healthcare systems often don’t have the same reach or resources.
  8. USAID is helping in the fight against TB. USAID focuses on providing locally generated solutions to fight TB. By training healthcare workers, USAID is able to improve the detection of TB, as well as the treatment and overall treatment success rate. In 2018 the organization was able to train 40,000 healthcare workers in key areas to fight TB in impoverished countries and saw a 14% increase in case notifications. USAID also set the tremendous goal of having another 40 million people diagnosed and enrolled in treatment, and another 30 million people enrolled in preventative therapy by 2022.
  9. Poverty and TB connect. TB cases would fall by more than 80% by eliminating extreme poverty. There is a strong link between extreme poverty and TB. If combined, programs directly targeting TB and programs targeting the eradication of poverty can help slow the transmission and increase the response rate by improving healthcare services and raising the quality of life.
  10. The TB Alliance is working to affect change. The TB Alliance is researching affordable treatment for those in need. By forging partnerships in many different sectors, this non-profit is chasing the goal of ending TB deaths. The organization is developing faster-acting drugs that can be circulated to both treat and prevent TB. This development has already transformed how TB is approached in the medical research field and could help millions of patients struggling to access affordable and fast treatment options.

Although TB poses a threat to impoverished countries, there is a lot being done to prevent TB deaths. The Global Fund is ensuring that grants are provided for countries combating the dual-threat of COVID-19 and existing diseases like TB, HIV and malaria. With effective treatment regimens already on the market and faster-acting versions in development, increased U.S. foreign aid and funding for aid programs could expedite the end of TB in impoverished countries.

– Eleanor Williams

Photo: Flickr