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A lot of homeless people die from treatable diseases

Posted March 16, 2019

Once you find yourself in society‘s margins, everything becomes more difficult. You struggle to keep yourself clean and healthy and the way back seems to be too long and with too many obstacles. Homeless people are stuck and often face issues that are foreign to those of us, who are more fortunate. A new UCL study found a third of deaths among homeless people are caused by treatable conditions.

Contrary to a popular belief, most homeless people die from illness rather than drug overdoses of hypothermia. Image credit: Trougnouf (Benoit Brummer) via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Scientists analysed nearly 4,000 in-depth medical records for 600 homeless people who died in English hospitals between 2013 and 2016. They compared causes of their death to those of more fortunate people of the same age. Scientists found that most of the deaths were from illnesses and not from hypothermia or alcohol and drug overdoses like many people believe. A fifth of analysed deaths occurred because of cancer and around the same number because of digestive diseases such as intestinal obstruction or pancreatitis. Most importantly, a third of the deaths of homeless people were caused by treatable conditions such as tuberculosis and gastric ulcers, which can improve with the right care.

Scientists say that this study highlights problems of English healthcare system, but the same lessons could be applied to other countries as well. Researchers say that sick homeless people should be identified sooner and those that are at immediate risk should be admitted to hospitals. However, nowadays homeless people do not get all the attention they need. They rarely have the means to call ambulance for themselves, they find it difficult to schedule doctor visits and prepare for them. The same reasons why they find themselves homeless make it difficult to use existing healthcare system. And so a lot of them die from preventable causes.

But what can we do? The system needs to change to make space for homeless people. Some policy changes need to be made. Dr Rob Aldridge, lead author of the study, said: “While homelessness is often addressed in England by means of short-term housing related support with a focus on recovery from mental illness and substance misuse, our research points to the need for a much broader focus that is encompassing of physical health and long-term condition management, especially for more common conditions such as cardiovascular disease”. But will people be willing to make a change for the better for the homeless?

People are empathetic and compassionate beings. We want to take care of each other. However, caring for homeless people also requires some investments and some additional work. In order to really improve the situation we need cooperation between NGO’s, volunteers and professionals from healthcare systems.


Source: UCL

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