TB is one of the top ten causes of premature death worldwide, causing the deaths of 1.7 million people in 2016 alone. In a recent End TB Strategy, the WHO called for a greater level of social support, along with poverty reduction strategies to try and bring down the number of infections. It’s now thought that tackling poverty could be just as effective as a strategy as developing new medicines and vaccines.
In fact, a recent report, released to coincide with World Tuberculosis Day said that eliminating extreme poverty around the world could lead to a 84% reduction in cases by 2035. The study looked at rates of TB across 192 countries, and found a strong link between the prevalence of the disease and poverty – which is those living on less than $1.90 per day. It’s been known for some time that income levels affect the risk of contracting TB. Over 95% of deaths are in low to middle income countries. However, it’s been unclear just how big the effect is until now.
Daniel Carter, researcher London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and co-author of the study said: “This study is important to show that preventative measures have great impact,” explained. We tend to only engage with TB patients when they are already ill, but this is not enough to eliminate TB.
“Poverty reduction could be just as effective in tackling the disease as drugs and vaccines. Science is sexy but poverty elimination is not. If a biomedical tool were to show the same efficacy on TB it would be immediately implemented, but expanding social programmes requires more political will and ambition from health and development leaders.”
Tom Wingfield clinical lecturer in infectious diseases at Liverpool University added: “Recent global TB control strategy has been disproportionately focused on medicines and tests rather than addressing the social causes of the TB epidemic.” Wingfield is part of a team from the Innovation for Health and Development group, who have been investigating the link between poverty and TB in Peru. It was found that when patients are unable to meet the costs associated with treatment, including travel and lost income, they were more likely to die from the disease.
He said: “Our findings had identified a crucial factor explaining why medicines alone were not controlling TB. In response we provided social and financial support for affected households – bank transfers of up to $40 a month and visits by our research nurses. The intervention was a success. Supported TB patients were significantly more likely to complete their treatment or be cured, and their children were more likely to take medicine to prevent TB.”