‘Victorian’ Disease Epidemic in England Blamed on Rising Poverty

A worrying rise in the number of people living in poverty in the United Kingdom has been blamed for the resurgence of diseases most would have thought long-since eradicated. Cholera and scarlet fever in particular have exploded in prevalence over recent years, alongside a sharp increase in confirmed cases of whooping cough.

Tuberculosis rates are also disproportionately high, though are noted to have declined considerably over the same period.

According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), cases of cholera have increased 300% over the last five years, scurvy diagnoses are up 38% and scarlet fever cases have spiked 136%. By contrast, overall tuberculosis rates have declined over the same period of time, though are said to remain disproportionately high. Though down, TB rates across England are said to be higher than would be expected in Guatemala, Iraq, Rwanda and other developing nations.

Incredibly, TB was responsible for more global deaths in 2015 than HIV and AIDS, highlighting the severity and importance of a routinely-overlooked health crisis.

'Victorian' Disease Epidemic in England Blamed on Rising Poverty

Experts have suggested that the root cause of the resurgence could be a combination of immigration, malnutrition, poverty and inadequate access to health/social care.

“There has been a huge rise in scarlet fever — 14,000 [suspected] cases in the last year, the highest since the 1960s,” said London-based immunologist, Dr. Nuria Martinez-Alier, in an interview with CNN.

“We have seen a rise in the cases of tuberculosis, we’ve seen a rise in cases of whooping cough, we have seen more measles in the last 10 years than in the last 10 years before that.”

Whole most of the diseases experiencing a resurgence are can be cured with medication, TB has the potential to both spread incredibly rampantly and be fatal if left untreated. Of the approximate 9 million global cases of TB recorded in 2013, around 1.5 million were killed by the disease.

“I think there is a general sense in this country, at least for me — which is incorrect — that infectious diseases are completely eradicated, or that we found some way to get rid of them and that they are ‘Victorian’ illnesses,” said Josie Garrett, a resident of London currently being treated for TB.

“The reality is that’s just not the case. It’s definitely something people need to be aware of.”

Dr. Martinez-Alier warned that poor vaccination rates are also intensifying the problem, though highlighted the fact that malnutrition cases in the United Kingdom have also doubled over recent years.

The White House recently published details of a new program to help fight multidrug-resistant tuberculosis on a global basis, as the World Health Organization released the latest statistics on TB infections and fatalities.

“The National Action Plan is an effort to articulate a comprehensive strategy, and to mobilize political will and additional financial and in-kind commitments from bilateral and multilateral donor partners, private-sector partners, and governments of all affected countries,” read the press release from the White House.

“The [WHO] report shows that TB control has had a tremendous impact in terms of lives saved and patients cured,” commented Margaret Chan, Director General of the WHO.

“These advances are heartening, but if the world is to end this epidemic, it needs to scale up services and, critically, invest in research.”

[Updated December 26]