In the slums of Latin America, 117 million people live in poverty. The region’s megacities, including Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Bogota, Rio de Janeiro, and Lima, generate over-crowded living conditions without access to clean water or electricity, poor nutritional status, and often lack of basic health services. These marginalized populations are made up of the poor, the homeless, and vulnerable indigenous groups that have migrated to the city in search of a better life; they are the urban poor of Latin America.
The combination of these social determinants generates a breeding ground for tuberculosis (TB).
Around the world, tuberculosis rates are often high in urban areas and in the Americas it is no exception. Twenty-five percent of Peru’s urban poor live in Lima-Callao, which reports 60% of the tuberculosis cases for the entire country and 85% of drug-resistant tuberculosis cases which is difficult and costly to treat.
As populations continue to explode throughout the region, health conditions will continue to worsen if they are not addressed, particularly in slums. In 2011, 30,000 people died of tuberculosis in the Americas and there were 268,000 new reported cases. Worldwide, 1.4 million lost their fight against the disease. Tuberculosis, once thought an old disease, is the new emerging problem for the most vulnerable.
Tuberculosis has been used as a prime example of a “social disease” because it finds its nest among the poor and marginalized. The control of tuberculosis in cities requires social, economic, and environmental interventions to improve living conditions and increase access to health services. USAID has funded the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to tackle this concentrated epidemic in key cities across the Americas.
PAHO currently works with municipalities in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Bogota, Colombia; and Lima, Peru to improve their tuberculosis programs that service the urban poor. The successes from these cities will be shared with Mexico City, Guayaquil, and other megacities in Latin America and around the world.
As urbanization rates continue to increase, so are the chances of tuberculosis among the urban poor. Tuberculosis is contagious but also curable; acting now while the epidemic is concentrated will help avoid astronomical costs for treatment and keep the region healthy.