Severe Illness Worldwide

An Underappreciated Global Health Issue

Severe illness and infection occur wherever people get sick. In most wealthy countries, we have developed specialized units–intensive or critical care units–to treat these conditions. However, in many parts of the world, such facilities don’t exist

This lack of resources means that people in poor areas bear a disproportionate burden of severe illness. Because three-quarters of the world’s population lives in these parts of the world, easing this burden is a critical global health issue.

Unfortunately, severe illness management in poor settings has not received much attention.

A Fixable Problem

Although the number of people worldwide who are dealing with severe illness is great, managing the problem may not be expensive. Research shows that a relatively small investment of resources can save lives, in part because in low resource settings, severely ill patients tend to be younger and otherwise healthier than people in wealthier areas. Even in cases of acute surgical or trauma care, treatment tends to be cost effective.

Initiating simple triage systems and offering essential provisions like oxygen, antimicrobials, and fluids can aid in the prompt recognition and treatment of severe illness. Low cost and durable clinical devices such as pulse oximeters, oxygen concentrators, and mechanical ventilators, which are commonly employed in critical care settings, are rarely available in poorer communities.

Making these items available and teaching health care workers when and how to use them may have a significant impact on severe illness.

Further Reading

To learn more about the importance of improving severe illness management in low-resource settings, read: