In 2002, almost 11 million people died of infectious diseases alone … far more than the number killed in the natural or man-made catastrophes that make headlines. (These are the latest figures presented by the World Health Organization.)
The World Health Organization’s explanation of the indirect costs of malaria are also applicable to most of the other diseases:
The following video details how malaria affects so many in Ethiopia, in turn highlighting numerous related issues such as the impact of poverty. The topics discussed in this video also apply to numerous regions around the world face—Africa in particular:
This is just a small example. There are many more diseases and deteriorating health systems which cost many, many lives each year.
Poverty and social conditions, brought upon by human decisions and global institutions to shape the world economy in a way that favors a few western countries to the detriment of the rest of the world, continue. Increased poverty and debt is resulting in forced cut-backs in health and education, the very things that would help form a foundation in ensuring such impacts are minimized.
While a lot of news reports and coverage tend to be of stock markets, booming (or now receding) economies, international war on terrorism, a few other selected conflicts and local news, etc. one issue that is often missed by the mainstream media is the sheer number of people affected and dying from tropical and infectious diseases—and that is largely preventable and curable.
Until recently, AIDS had not killed as many as some of the other major diseases, yet it still received more attention than the other big killers in the world, which hardly seem to get covered, in comparison.
Largely impacting developing countries where health facilities and systems are weaker, poverty is also resulting in largely curable and preventable diseases from killing millions each year.
There are also other issues such as the various cultural and traditional barriers, and social issues and taboos that need to be overcome in some parts of the developing world, for treatments to be made readily accessible. However, a look, for example, at the causes of poverty, as described on this web site, would help indicate why these issues are important for developed and wealthy nations alike and what roles and responsibilities they have as well:
Western nations through their imperial and colonial pasts now own most of the world’s wealth and ability to access and make goods from resources acquired from developing nations.
Most of the world’s patents on natural food and medicinal ingredients are in industrialized countries, even though the ingredients themselves are mostly from the developing countries.
International trade and economic policies are guided (or dictated) by the West. The poverty and debt that many poor nations are facing, are in part due to these policies.
The effects of such conditions are many. One of which is deteriorating health and provision of health systems for the majority of people.
Africa Action, an organization looking into political, economic and social justice for Africa has an article on the impacts of IMF and World Bank structural adjustments and its impacts on health in Africa, and is worth quoting at length:
The article also comments on recent increases in funds to tackle HIV/AIDS and other problems and concludes that because some underlying causes and issues are not addressed, these steps may not have much effective impact:
The poverty and economic aspect of the various root causes of disease and health problems is less understood or discussed in mainstream media or various medical and scientific circles. Yet, poverty has been described as the number one health problem for many poor nations as they do not have the resources to meet the growing needs. However, when mentioned, emphasis in the mainstream media and by pharmaceutical companies has been far more on cures rather than prevention.
And one aspect of prevention is to tackle the issue of poverty. For more about such aspects, visit this web site’s section on trade and economic issues.
So, while western corporations and countries therefore have the ability to help provide treatment, it is either at an unacceptable cost (such as expensive AIDS drugs, which most people who suffer from AIDS in developing countries cannot afford), or are not deemed profitable to continue efforts in, because even though the market for such medicines is enormous, the lack of means to pay for them deems it an unworthy pursuit for the pharmaceutical corporations:
Furthermore, there is also some criticism of when transnational pharmaceuticals do get involved as having to be concerned about profits. Save The Children Fund UK for example, criticizes the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI) initiative set up in 1999. This initiative was one of the first joint public-private partnerships, to address falling immunisation levels by providing vaccines to over 70 of the poorest countries in the world. It has been a one of the largest global health campaigns, and even been used as a model for other initiatives, such as the UN Global Health Fund. It got a bit of attention because the world’s richest man, Microsoft head, Bill Gates had donated $750 million via his foundation.
However, Save The Children Fund UK have raised important concerns that the GAVI initiative could simply end up creating markets for costly new vaccines whilst doing little to tackle the biggest killer diseases. There are various concerns raised such as the potential conflict of interests of private sector donors on the governing board, the sustainability of supplying and creating markets for costly vaccines and the impact of imposing new programmes and administration on collapsing national health systems.
Also, when economic and political policies and their effects such as structural adjustment that have demanding cut backs in health and education for example, are not addressed, such initiatives are hard enough, let alone with these concerns about motives of the pharmaceutical companies. In the bid for markets and economic growth the health and well-being of ordinary citizens is constantly being risked at a global level. Also relying on such mega donations is also a sign of faltering public systems, as highlighted by the following:
For more on these structural adjustment policies, etc. see this web site’s section about structural adjustment.
Pharmaceutical Corporations and Medical Research looks at how many in the pharmaceutical industries are concentrating on profitable issues only. It provides many more links and quotes on the particular issue of corporations and their impacts on medical treatments etc.