TB and poverty

Tuberculosis can drive entire countries, not just the people within them, into ever deeper poverty.

It’s no coincidence that the countries with the highest rates of TB are also some of the poorest and/or most unequal societies. TB is more common in countries where many people live in absolute poverty because people are more likely to:

  • live and work in poorly ventilated and overcrowded conditions, which provide ideal conditions for TB bacteria to spread
  • suffer from malnutrition and disease – particularly HIV – which reduces resistance to TB
  • have limited access to healthcare – and just one person with untreated infectious TB can pass the illness on to 10-15 people annually.

TB affects the vulnerable

In any society, rich or poor, TB tends to impact heavily on the poorest and most marginalised groups:

  • migrant communities
  • people with drink, drug or mental health issues
  • homeless people and those in poor quality housing
  • people with weak immune systems, due to HIV, other illnesses or age
  • people with a history of prison.

A spiral of poverty

People with TB can find themselves in a downward spiral of poverty. This is because:

Loss of productivity: They are often unable to work or attend school – for 3-4 months on average. Carers, if needed, may be expected to give up work or school themselves. This can result in a significant loss of earnings and/or reduce a child’s future earning potential. If a patient dies, a family loses about 15 years of potential income.

Associated costs of TB: People may not be aware of, or able to access, free treatment and may end up paying traditional healers or private doctors. Even where TB treatment and drugs are free there is often a cost of travelling to clinics and additional heating or nutrition needs.

Stigma: People can lose their jobs, or be excluded from future employment, because of fears surrounding TB. Women may be divorced, or considered unworthy of marriage, if they are known to have been affected by TB, making them more likely to experience extreme poverty.