In our increasingly interconnected and mobile world, infectious diseases are emerging and spreading at an unprecedented rate. An astounding 40 new diseases have been identified since the 1970s, and in the past five years alone, the World Health Organization (WHO) has verified over 1,100 epidemic events worldwide. This year’s World Health Report, entitled A Safer Future: Global Public Health Security in the 21st Century, explores the unique challenges underlying today’s most pressing public health threats. The WHO sends a clear message throughout the report: effectively preventing and responding to new and emerging public health risks will require enhanced international cooperation and transparency.
Inequality and Health
A Canadian study in 1998 suggested that the wealthiest nations do not have the healthiest people; instead, it is countries with the smallest economic gap between the rich and poor.
For many years, poverty has also been described as the number one health problem for many poor nations as they do not have the resources to meet the growing needs. Yet, it is not beyond humanity:
At the end of August, 2008, the World Health Organization’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health presented a 3-year investigation into the social detriments to health in a report titled the Closing the gap in a generation: Health equity through action on the social determinants of health.
The report noted that health inequalities were to be found all around the world, not just the poorest countries:
The poorest of the poor, around the world, have the worst health. Those at the bottom of the distribution of global and national wealth, those marginalized and excluded within countries, and countries themselves disadvantaged by historical exploitation and persistent inequity in global institutions of power and policy-making present an urgent moral and practical focus for action. But focusing on those with the least, on the ‘gap’ between the poorest and the rest, is only a partial response.
… In rich countries, low socioeconomic position means poor education, lack of amenities, unemployment and job insecurity, poor working conditions, and unsafe neighbourhoods, with their consequent impact on family life. These all apply to the socially disadvantaged in low-income countries in addition to the considerable burden of material deprivation and vulnerability to natural disasters. So these dimensions of social disadvantage – that the health of the worst off in high-income countries is, in a few dramatic cases, worse than average health in some lower-income countries … – are important for health.
— Closing the gap in a generation: Health equity through action on the social determinants of health , Commission on Social Determinants of Health, World Health Organization, August 28, 2008, p.31
Sir Michael Marmot explains why social, political and economic policies affect health. Source: WHO. Higher quality video
Sir Michael Marmot, chair of the Commission, noted in an interview that most health problems are due to social, political and economic factors.
“The key determinants of health of individuals and populations are the circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work and age,” he says. “And those circumstances are affected by the social and economic environment. They are the cause premature of disease and suffering; that’s unnecessary. And that’s why we say a toxic combination of poor social policies, bad politics and unfair economics are causing health and disease on a grand scale.” Marmot expands on this further in the video clip.
Even within a country such as the UK, then, the report finds that the average life-span can differ by some 28 years, depending on whether you are in the poorer or wealthier strata of society.
Holds five different stages of transition:
1. Stage One
*The stage of pestilence and famine. Infectious and parasitic diseases were principal causes of human deaths, along with accidents and attacks by animals and other animals. It has been said that theses causes of death is natural checks on the growth of human population.
- Well documented is the origin and diffusion of history’s most violent stage 1 epidemic the black plague, or bubonic plague, which was probably transmitted to human by fleas from migrating infected rats.
- Places such as China was hit in 1380 with 13 million dead.
2. Stage Two
*Stage two of the epidemiologic transition has been called the stage of receding pandemics. A pandemic is disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects a very high proportion of the population. Improved sanitation, nutrition, and medicine during the Industrial Revolution reduced the spread of infectious diseases.
- Cholera unknown in rural areas became an especially virilent epidemic in urban areas during the industrial revolution. One half million people died of chlera in New york city 1832, and and one eighth of the population of Cairo in 1831.
- Construction of water and sewer systems eradicated cholera by the late nineteenth century. However, cholera reappeared a century later in rapidly growing cities of LDCs as they moved into stage 2 of the demographic transition.