As we mentioned earlier in the week, we will be posting a series of blogs over the next couple weeks as a follow-up to our Live Below the Line Campaign that go beyond the dollar amount of living in extreme poverty and explore the complex systems like health, education, gender inequality and corruption that contribute to the cycle of poverty.
I want to first begin with the issue of health since it has been such a hot topic lately with the recent Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) Conference last week.
Health is an important aspect of all of our lives, so much so that it’s a common saying for many of us when experiencing tough times to say, “well at least I have my health.” But that often isn’t true for people living in extreme poverty.
Unfortunately, the problems connected to health and poverty are two-fold: people living in these conditions are exposed to more chances of infection and then lack the access to services that can treat them.
Increased Health Risks
It all begins with overexposure to unsafe conditions for poor communities, such as contaminated water, poor sanitation, heightened prevalence of infectious diseases, or hunger and malnutrition. We’ve mentioned many times before that there are 884 million people lacking access to safe and clean drinking water and 2.6 billion without adequate sanitation, which attributes to 4,000 children dying each day just from drinking contaminated water that causes diarrhoea. Likewise, almost two-thirds of the 12,000 people who die every day from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria live in sub-Saharan Africa where infection rates are high compared to richer regions of the world (ONE).
As the World Food Programme (WFP) has stressed, hunger and malnutrition are still the number one risks to health worldwide and approximately 75% of the 925 million people who are undernourished are in Asia, the Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa where the majority of the population living in extreme poverty are located.
Lack of Access to Health Services
However, these poor conditions leading to increased health risks are only the beginning of the problem for people living in extreme poverty. As we’ve discussed before, we know access to health services is disproportionately linked to more affluent regions, which currently leaves 1 billion people without the chance of ever seeing a doctor in their entire life. There is a lack of health workers and also health facilities in poor and rural communities that often forces sick individuals to travel for hours or even days to reach the nearest doctor. This means these populations are more likely to wait too long to seek treatment so that their condition worsens or becomes chronic, or to eventually die before receiving treatment.
Lack of access to health services also contributes to the 358,000 mothers who die each year during childbirth and 8.1 million children who die each year from preventable and treatable diseases and complications we wouldn’t even think were possible from the perspective of the developed world. For example, 99% of maternal deaths occur in developing countries where a woman has a one in 31 chance of dying in pregnancy in places like sub-Saharan Africa, compared to one in 4,200 in Europe (White Ribbon Alliance).
Effects of Poor Health
So it’s clear that increased health risks and lack of access to health services both contribute to poor health amongst people living in extreme poverty, but how does that affect the rest of their life? Below are just a few ways that it can have traumatic consequences for both individuals and families.
• Malnutrition can lead to lowered productivity at work resulting in loss of wages or reduced concentration for children in school resulting in decreased learning and/or performance
• Illnesses or injuries often cause missed days from work or school, again leading to loss of wages or a decrease in educational learning/performance. For instance, 73 million working days are lost each year in India due to water-bourne diseases alone (WaterAid).
• Stigmatised diseases or injuries like HIV/AIDS or obstetric fistula- an injury developed by women predominantly in developing countries from complications during childbirth- can lead to loss of status or dignity in one’s community.
Battling the health crisis to reduce extreme poverty
It’s obvious that living in extreme poverty has many health obstacles restricting human capabilities before we even consider income. So is there anything we can do to change that? Of course! You can support organisations like the ones below that are on the ground trying to make changes in global health every day so people can have one less barrier to pulling themselves out of poverty.
• PATH creates sustainable, culturally relevant solutions, enabling communities worldwide to break long-standing cycles of poor health.
• WaterAid and its partners use practical solutions to provide safe water, effective sanitation and hygiene education to the world's poorest people.
• Oxfam is campaigning for an end to the global hunger crisis by putting pressure on leaders for real and lasting change, as well as working with poor communities for a better future.