An American economist, Jeffrey Sachs, once said, “Extremepoverty is the best breeding ground on earth for disease, politicalinstability, and terrorism.” An obvious message implied in this quote is thatthere is a direct link between poverty and disease, especially among vulnerablegroups of people. Because poverty is considered as oneof the most problematic issues, eradicating poverty has been put as the firstof seventeen Sustainable Development Goals in 2015: ‘No poverty’ (Kumar, Kumar& Vivekadhish, 2016). Poverty can be measured in many ways by differentindividuals. While the World Bank’s measure of poverty is ‘the percentage ofpeople living below an income of one US dollar per day’, this is not the case forthose with no income but still meet their basic needs for daily survival, andthis measure does not consider different average spending and different valuesof one US dollar between countries (Parker & Wilson, 2000, p. 83).
In fact,poverty is not being able to get access to basic needs such as food, shelter,clothing and clean water, basic education and healthcare. Poverty makes people more prone to disease (Walraven, 2011, p. 4),and thus, this essay addresses diseases and health conditions that are morewidespread among the poor, called “diseases of poverty”. Infectious diseases (e.g. measles), parasitic diseases (e.g.
malaria) and respiratory diseases (e.g. tuberculous) are among most common anddreadful diseases of poverty, especially in children. The Health Poverty Actionstates that millions of the poorest and most vulnerable people are killed everyyear by communicable diseases such as diarrhoea, tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV. Theyare linked with the lack of income, clean water and sanitation, food, access tohealthcare and basic education which are the characteristics of poorcommunities and countries (Rowson, 2001). Poverty increases the chance ofgetting ill because of poor nutrition, overcrowding, lack of clean water andsanitation, which in turn cause a reduction in a family’s work productivity.This process, by the Health Poverty Action, is called as the “cycle of povertyand poor health” (Thecycle of poverty and poor health).
One extreme side of poverty ismalnutrition. We are what we eat. Malnutrition, more importantly undernutrition, cause many problems,especially to children and pregnant women. Undernutrition includes stunting,wasting, and deficiencies of essential vitamins and minerals (Walraven, 2011,p. 111). In developing countries, undernutrition is the result of inadequatefood supplies and poverty, and sometimes it is caused by unbalanced diet.
It isimportant for a woman to be fully nourished before and during pregnancy becauseMaternal undernutrition is associated with intrauterine growth restrictionwhich causes low offspring birthweight. Moreover, Undernutrition has stronglinks with diseases like diarrhoea, measles, and tuberculosis becauseundernutrition can weaken resistance to acquire diseases and lower the ability tofight the disease once it occurs; in other words, undernutrition weakens one’simmune system (Parker & Wilson, 2000, p. 84). Accordingto World Health Organization (2017), about 45% of deaths in children under 5worldwide are attributable to undernutrition (Children: reducing mortality). Asit has become one of the most pressing issues, the United Nations’ (2015) SustainableDevelopment Goal 2.2.
targets to end all forms of malnutrition by 2030,including achieving the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wastingin children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs ofadolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons by 2025 (SDG2: End hunger). In addition tomalnutrition, unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation are alsocharacteristics of poverty that cause health problems among people. Despite thefact that the access to clean water is important to support our lives, thereare people who have little or no access to safe drinking water across theglobe.
According to World Health Organization, in 2015, 2.1 people live withoutsafely managed water sources, meaning they live on unprotected and untreatedwater from lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams (Drinking-water). People living insuch kind of conditions are prone to water-borne diseases like diarrhoea. When peopledrink the water that is contaminated with the pathogen or water-bornedisease-causing agent, they are infected with the disease (Walraven, 2011, p.
83). Moreover, poor sanitation also play an important role in spreadingdiarrhoea. According to the Health Poverty Action, approximately two millionpeople die from diarrhoea each year, especially among children in developingcountries (Infectious diseases). Diarrheal diseases, causedby a lack of clean water and inadequate sanitation, account for an estimatedtwo million deaths each year, with majority of them being children under theage of five (Walraven, 2011, p. 88).
When discussingabout diseases of poverty, HIV and AIDS should not be forgotten. Humanimmuno-deficiency virus (HIV) is considered as a relatively new and fatal virusfor low-income countries and as the cause of acquired immuno-deficiencysyndrome (AIDS) (Parker & Wilson, 2000, p. 89). HIV/AIDS is not just asexually transmitted disease as many would consider. Millions of children have beenborn with the disease while others have been infected with the virus through receivingblood from infected person or using shared needles with infected person. HIV/AIDSis a disease of poverty because it has emerged as the disease of the poor bothin developed and developing nations. According toUNAIDS report, in 2016, approximately 36.
7 million people, 2.1 million of whichbeing children under 15, were living with HIV/AIDS. And, not surprisingly, avast majority of infected individuals live in poor communities. Onenot-so-direct link between HIV/AIDS and poverty is education. Vandemoortele andDelamonica (2000) introduced a term, “Education Vaccine” against HIV.Education, especially women’s schooling, is the most effective vaccine againstHIV. Illiterate women are more ignorant about the basic facts about HIV/AIDSand more importantly, they are not aware that the HIV virus can be transmittedfrom mother to child (Vandemoortele & Delamonica, 2000).
World Bank (1993)stated that ‘Education greatly strengthens women’s ability to perform theirvital role in creating healthy households’ (Parker & Wilson, 2000, p. 82).If women (and men) are educated with STDs (sexually transmitted diseases),protected sex relationships, and basic knowledge about HIV/AIDS, many morepeople each year will be protected from being infected with the disease.Unfortunately, sex education is mostly offered at schools and a large portionof world population can not go to school and are illiterate due to poverty.Then what about’Non-Communicable Diseases’ such as cardiovascular disease and obesity? Formany decades, people believed that these diseases are only caused among richpeople because they are so-called diseases of affluence or lifestyle. That’s notthe case anymore in 21st century anymore. Urbanization, alteredconsumer behaviours and population aging are the causes of chronicnon-communicable diseases or diseases of affluence such as cardiovasculardisease, chronic respiratory disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes.
Smoking andother unhealthy dietary habits such as eating high-sugar, high-fat and saltrich food have become among the most problem-causing behaviours in poor partsof the world, where people have little or no education about health and healthydiet (Walraven, 2011, pp. 127-128).These diseases do not only occur in adults but also in children.
In Scotland,for instance, more than 210,000 children live in poverty, with 28 percentage ofthem being obese or overweight, and with around 400 dying each year (Cramb, 2017).Moreover, Cramb (2017) added that because over 29 % of pregnant women in thepoorest areas are smokers, children are set on a path to ill health. Althoughmodern diseases have been developed to cure such kind of so-called diseases ofaffluence, they are enormously expensive for the poor patients. Thus, for poor,it is cheaper to prevent then cure, and here I would like to use the term the”education vaccine” against non-communicable diseases. Providing people witheducation on healthy lifestyle, meaning eating healthy diet and doing morephysical activities, is a potential solution thought it may seem insufficientat first and in short-term. In brief, diseases of poverty can be both communicable andnon-communicable diseases. And, as Patch Adams’ quote, “Excellence in healthmeans devoting your life to ending poverty,” these diseases will be healed onlywith the eradication of poverty. Although it may not be easy to completely getrid of poverty, there are many small steps that can be taken by every nation,each community, individuals.
Creating better access to basic needs such asfood, shelter, clothing and clean water, basic education and healthcare thesimplest steps the government of every country do. However,it is easier said than done because no one have come up with a universalindicator to measure poverty. Moreover, “end poverty” (SDG1) can be regarded asan end goal (Lemphert, 2017. P. 123) whereas “good health and well-being” (SDG3), “quality education” (SDG 4) and “clean water and sanitation” (SDG6) are thestepping stones to reach the end goal. All in all, it is the fact that povertyand poor health are directly correlated to each other; when poverty causes bothcommunicable and non-communicable diseases among people, these diseases reducesthe work productivity of people.