Genital herpes linked with economic, quality of life losses in low- and middle-income countries

December 19, 2022 – Genital herpes is driving significant losses to both economies and quality of life in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), according to a new study co-authored by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study was published December 15 in PLOS Medicine. Using data from 90 LMICs, researchers estimated that genital herpes contributed to more than $800 million in treatment and productivity losses in 2019. They also estimated that quality-of-life losses related to genital herpes cost about $212 billion.

In addition, the study looked at the economic impact of HSV-2—the virus that causes most cases of genital herpes—on HIV. Assuming that HSV-2 has fueled the spread of HIV, the authors estimated that nearly one-third of costs for antiretroviral medications and HIV-related wage losses can be attributed to HSV-2.

The authors further estimated that genital herpes would lead to another $700 million in treatment and productivity losses in LMICs between 2020 and 2030, as well as significant additional quality-of-life-losses.

The study results provide “compelling evidence that despite the commonly held notion that HSV-2 is an innocuous infection, it can lead to substantial economic losses in LMICs,” the authors wrote. To address these impacts, the authors argued that a vaccine against HSV-2 must be a global priority.

The study was led by Sachin Silva, DrPH ’22, stemming from his doctoral dissertation work at Harvard Chan School. Harvard Chan School’s Rifat Atun, professor of global health systems, was also a co-author, as were researchers from Qatar University, the University of Washington, and Cornell University.