Economic inequality caused by feedbacks between poverty and the dynamics of a rare tropical disease: the case of Buruli ulcer in sub-Saharan Africa

Proc Biol Sci. 2015 Nov 7;282(1818):20151426. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2015.1426.


Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) have received increasing attention in recent years by the global heath community, as they cumulatively constitute substantial burdens of disease as well as barriers for economic development. A number of common tropical diseases such as malaria, hookworm or schistosomiasis have well-documented economic impacts. However, much less is known about the population-level impacts of diseases that are rare but associated with high disability burden, which represent a great number of tropical diseases. Using an individual-based model of Buruli ulcer (BU), we demonstrate that, through feedbacks between health and economic status, such NTDs can have a significant impact on the economic structure of human populations even at low incidence levels. While average wealth is only marginally affected by BU, the economic conditions of certain subpopulations are impacted sufficiently to create changes in measurable population-level inequality. A reduction of the disability burden caused by BU can thus maximize the economic growth of the poorest subpopulations and reduce significantly the economic inequalities introduced by the disease in endemic regions.

Keywords: coupled ecological-economic systems; individual-based model; neglected tropical diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara / epidemiology
  • Buruli Ulcer / economics*
  • Buruli Ulcer / epidemiology*
  • Disabled Persons
  • Humans
  • Models, Economic
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Neglected Diseases / economics*
  • Neglected Diseases / epidemiology
  • Poverty*
  • Rural Population
  • Socioeconomic Factors