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Project February 6, 2017

The Re-Emergence of Victorian Diseases in the UK

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Client's entrance to St. Petrock's, a homeless charity based in Exeter. Image by Caitlin Bawn. England, 2016.
Client's entrance to St. Petrock's, a homeless charity based in Exeter. Image by Caitlin Bawn. England, 2016.

Over 13 million people are living below the poverty line in the UK. Under-nutrition is high, and the pressure is on local food banks and charities to fill the void: one organization, the Trussell Trust, reports distributing more than 500,000 three-day emergency food parcels in 2016 between April and September, with over 188,500 of them going to children.

These high levels of poverty and malnutrition are triggering a re-emergence of related "Victorian" diseases, such as scurvy, rickets, TB, scarlet fever, diphtheria—even cases of cholera and whooping cough. But the published data only refers to those who are being treated through the National Health Service (NHS). What about other vulnerable populations who may be overlooked by healthcare statistics?

A growth in street homelessness had led more people to be living in conditions where these diseases thrive: Tuberculosis, as one example, is higher among street sleepers in London than in Rwanda or Iraq. Boston University Student Fellow Caitlin Bawn reports on why these diseases are being seen again, who is most at risk, and what is being done to help solve these Dickensian issues.

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