Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Homelessness and infectious diseases

It’s bad enough they exist without a home to call their own, but to also become vulnerable to infectious diseases while living out in the streets could make their lives even more distressful.

A study conducted by the University of Oxford, reported by Kate Kelland of Reuters, reveals that homeless people worldwide have dramatically higher rates of infection with tuberculosis (TB), HIV and hepatitis C that could fuel community epidemics.  The research team analyzed more than 40 research papers on levels of HIV, hepatitis C and TB among homeless people from 1984 to 2012.

"Infections in homeless people can lead to community infections and are associated with malnutrition, long periods of homelessness and high use of medical services," said Seena Fazel, a senior research fellow in clinical science at the University of Oxford who led the study, which was published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal.  

He claims similar patterns were found in most other countries where data were available. Other countries covered in the study included France, India, Sweden, Ireland and Brazil.

According to United Nations estimates, about 100 million people worldwide are homeless. It is well known that rates of illness and premature death are particularly high in this group.

TB kills an estimated 1.4 million people annually, and about 9 million people are newly infected each year around the world.  Because it is a bacterial infection that spreads through the air in droplets when infected people cough and sneeze, it can develop into community outbreaks. It primarily infects the lungs, but could spread to the brain, kidneys, and bones.

The Philippines ranks ninth in terms of having the most number of tuberculosis cases worldwide, out of 22 countries identified by the World Health Organization.  This was revealed in a forum held recently with officials from the Department of Health (DOH).

Topping the list is India, followed by China, Indonesia, Nigeria and South Africa. Also in the list are Bangladesh, Ehiopia, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Freeman reports that although curable, tuberculosis claims the life of approximately 75 Filipinos each day, and it is identified as among the leading causes of mortality in the country.

Dr. Enrique Sancho, head of the Communicable Disease Center for Health Development- Central Visayas, said that three out of 1,000 Filipinos are infected with tuberculosis.

In Cebu City alone, according to this article, at least 53 patients are being treated now for this lung disease, said Dr. Sharon Azenith Laurel, of the Programmatic Management for Drug-Resistant TB- Treatment Center of the South. 

The DOH has yet to give statistics for this year but last year, Cebu had the highest number of cases in Central Visayas, which is also included in the top 10 regions nationwide in terms of high incidence.  There were more than 7,000 cases in the Visayas region last year, and more than 50 percent were in Cebu. 

According to Department of Health (DOH) officials, there are many TB patients who are not cured either because they stop taking or take irregularly, their drugs. According to the health officials, the long duration of treatment, which is six months on the average, is reason for patients to be remiss in their drug intake.

As for the homelessness issue, about 270,000 Filipinos were added recently to the list of homeless cases in Metro Manila due to massive flooding and landslides caused by torrential monsoon rainfalls.  

According a government report in 1998, there were approximately 1.2 million street children — about 70,000 of them in Metro Manila alone. Today, the number of children and youth living part of their lives on the streets in the Philippines could reach two million.

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  1. Nakakalungkot naman. What can the rest of us who are better off (we think...probably erroneously)to alleviate their conditions?

  2. Nakakalungkot naman yung info mo. What can the rest of of us, who are a notch better (we think...probably erroneously)do to alleviate their

  3. Yet another sad statistic of the homeless population. I don't know about the numbers here in the US, but I'm sure we've got similar problems in terms of spreading diseases. So sad.

  4. This is terribly troubling all over the world.
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team