The World Health Situation—A Growing Gap
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN BRAZIL
WHEN Ali Maow Maalin caught smallpox in Somalia in 1977, it landed him in the hospital and in the headlines as well. After he was treated and cured, WHO (World Health Organization) announced in 1980 that smallpox—after ravaging millions of people for centuries—had been eradicated from the face of the earth. Ali was said to have been the world’s last victim.
In 1992, WHO reported other health-care gains: During the 1980’s, more people in the developing world gained access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities. In addition, a higher percentage of the population in the least-developed countries gained access to a local health service. As a result, during the last decade, the number of childhood deaths dropped in some places.
These gains, however, are offset by losses and eclipsed by looming threats. Consider a few frightening facts.
HIV/AIDS—More than 17,000,000 people worldwide are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. About 3,000,000 became infected in one recent year, some 8,000 a day. More than a million children have contracted HIV. Deaths from AIDS among children may soon more than wipe out any gains in child survival in recent decades. And the epidemic is just now moving into the early explosive phase in many places, such as in Asia. Over 80 percent of all HIV victims, says Aids and Development, live in developing countries.
Tuberculosis (TB)—Though largely ignored for the past two decades, TB once more haunts the world, killing some three million people each year, making it the world’s number one killer among infectious diseases. Over 98 percent of those deaths took place in developing countries. To make a bad situation worse, the TB bacterium teamed up with HIV, forming a deadly alliance with devastating results. It is expected that by the year 2000, a million HIV-infected persons each year will die from TB.
Cancer—The number of cancer cases in developing countries is now greater than that in developed countries.
Heart Disease—“We are close to a global coronary catastrophe,” warns WHO’s Dr. Ivan Gyarfas. Heart disease is no longer the plague of industrialized nations alone. In Latin America, for example, two to three times more people will die from heart disease than from infectious diseases. Within a few years, coronaries and strokes will be the leading cause of death throughout the developing countries.
Tropical Diseases—Warns WHO: “Tropical diseases seem to have gone on a rampage, with cholera spreading to the Americas . . . , yellow fever and dengue epidemics affecting even greater numbers, and the malaria situation deteriorating.” Time magazine says: “In the world’s poorer countries, the fight against infectious disease is already a disaster.” The death toll from malaria alone is now about two million a year—this after it was thought to be largely eradicated some 40 years ago.
Diarrheic Diseases—The toll among the young in the developing countries is shocking. Almost 40,000 children die every day as a result of infection or malnutrition; one child dies every eight seconds from diarrheic diseases alone.
Health and Poverty—A Connection
What is this health picture telling us? “The developing countries are hit with a double blow,” says a health expert. “They are now hit with all the emerging modern chronic diseases but with the residual tropical diseases as well.” The result? A worrisome “geographical rift” has come into focus, notes the book Achieving Health for All by the Year 2000. Thus, health care in some 40 African and Asian countries is “not keeping pace with the rest of the world.” The health gap is huge—and growing.
Though there are numerous reasons for this growing gap, one main cause of poor health, says World Health magazine, “is poverty.” (Compare Proverbs 10:15.) Often poverty condemns people to inadequate shelter marked by lack of sanitation, lack of safe and sufficient water, and overcrowded, cramped living conditions. These three factors not only hamper health but actually promote diseases. Add to this malnutrition, which weakens the body’s defenses against sickness, and you can see why poverty does to health what termites do to wood.
When deadly diseases contaminate dwellings, cripple bodies, and kill children, the poor are hardest hit. Note some examples. In the poor sections of South Africa, the incidence of tuberculosis is a hundred times higher than that among high-income areas of the same nation. In impoverished areas of Brazil, six times more people are dying from pneumonia and influenza than in bordering wealthier neighborhoods. And the number of babies dying among India’s destitute families is ten times higher than that among India’s richest families. The painful fact stands out: ‘Poverty is dangerous to your health!’
No wonder that the more than one billion global slum dwellers are left with a feeling of despair. The underlying causes of poverty are beyond their control, and the sickening consequences dominate their lives. If you are suffering the ill effects of poverty, you too may feel hopelessly stuck on the miserable side of the health gap. Yet, poor or not, there are some steps you can take to protect your health and that of your children. What are those steps? The following article offers some suggestions.