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Links between recession and tuberculosis stronger than previously thought

28 April 2010

New research published this week in the Royal Society journal Interface suggests that the links between economic recession and the deadly disease tuberculosis are stronger than previously thought.  The researchers, based at the University of Oxford’s Institute for Emerging Infections and the World Health Organisation (WHO), developed a new statistical model to analyse data on economics and TB rates in Central and Eastern European countries from 1980 to 2006. The authors suggest that their model may prove useful in predicting the effects of the current economic crisis.

During the period studied, many Central and Eastern European countries underwent severe socioeconomic upheaval due to the collapse of the Soviet Union.  While recession has been linked to an increase in TB before, the researchers used a more nuanced statistical model to analyse data on the countries’ GDP and rates of TB infection and deaths.  Their model suggests that sudden economic decline had a stronger correlation with TB rates in Central and Eastern European countries during this period than previous models imply.

There are many reasons why TB incidence might increase when economies collapse: state-run health services are likely to suffer and social conditions and living standards will fall, leading to an increased susceptibility to infection and disease.  The researchers are quick to point out that although there are dissimilarities between the economic upheavals of the period studied and the current crisis, “If connections between the economy and TB control are similar to those in the 1990s, then we may again expect excess cases and deaths in Eastern European countries undergoing economic contraction.”

The authors go on to suggest that further research is urgently needed into the exact mechanisms behind the connection between recession and TB rates.  This would help researchers to determine how applicable the new model might be to the current situation in Eastern Europe.  If the model presented in this paper could be used to predict those countries most at risk of TB outbreaks in times of economic crisis, health organisations could combat this by increasing monitoring and surveillance efforts.  As the authors conclude, “while financial crises may be inevitable, or indeed unforeseeable, their adverse effects on health need not be.”