Poverty is the condition of not having the means to afford basic human needs e. g. nutrition, clothing, shelter, clean water, healthcare etc. Mahatma Gandhi has previously referred to it as the worst form of violence. Prior to the industrial revolution, poverty had been mostly accepted as inevitable as economies produced little thus making wealth scarce. Today, rises in the cost of living makes poor people less able to afford basic human needs e. g. poor people spend a big portion of their budgets on food in comparison to the rich. It is, however, not enough to blame the poor for their predicament.
Governments have also been culpable as they pursue policies that harm successful development. Globalization leads to decisions, policies and practices that are typically influenced, driven or formulated by the rich. These have resulted in a few people getting wealthy while the majority struggle. Poverty is determined by finding the total cost of all essential resources that an average human adult consumes in a year. Poverty threshold or the poverty line is the minimum level of income that is necessary to achieve an adequate standard of living in a given country.
It is significantly higher in developed countries than it is in the developing world. Poverty threshold is a useful economic tool which measures poverty on a global scale. Poverty was identified by the United Nations early this century as the first of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that each country was to work towards eradicating by 2015. Statistically, this goal still seems a long way off going by current indicators. According to the World Bank Development Indicators 2008, at least 80% of humanity lives on less than $1 a day with more than 80% of the population living in countries where income differentials are widening.
It is also prudent to note that the poorest 40% of the world’s population accounts for 5% of global income. The richest 20% account for three-quarters of world income. There are various causes that have been identified as contributing to global poverty. From a historical perspective, most poor countries were vassals of the great colonial powers of the 19th and 20th centuries. At independence, exit strategies by the colonial masters resulted in geographical boundaries that were inspired more by politics than the creation of new states.
Too many countries found themselves lacking a critical mass of resources or with the population being landlocked thus explaining why a significant portion of today’s global poverty exists in war torn and post-conflict countries e. g. the Democratic Republic of Congo. Also, the newly independent countries were also denied fair representation in international negotiations either by exclusion or lack of capacity. Global trade rules have obstructed developing countries from reproducing proven models of industrialization with Agriculture, a mainstay of most African economies, being impeded by massive subsidies.
Many developing countries have been architects of their own misfortune with self perpetuating kleptomaniac governance which fails to invest in agriculture. The broader lack of institutional capacity and infrastructure hinders delivery of aid programmes and business investments and is responsible for perpetuating global poverty. To aggregate global poverty on a consistent basis, the World Bank calculates an international poverty line by reference to the average of the national poverty lines in 10-20 of the world’s poorest countries. Using data from 2005, the international poverty line of $1.
25 resulted. However, two countries with the largest populations in the world i. e. India and China have adopted national poverty lines which are even lower. India’s approach, for example, is based on the food poverty line which gives a national poverty rate of 28% compared to 42% on the international basis. Based on World Bank figures, the number of people living below the international poverty line of $1. 25 fell from 1. 8 billion to 1. 4 billion between 1990 and 2005. China accounted for 465 million of this reduction implying that poverty had increased elsewhere within the period e. g.
in Sub-Saharan Africa, the increase was 100 million. The need to eradicate global poverty stems from religious teaching which finds secular expression in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which asserts that ‘everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and his family’. Another reason that calls for the eradication of global poverty lies in self interest as in a globalized world, countries large and small are interdependent. Extreme poverty leads to international labor migration which on its own can lead to other problems such as spread of disease.
International solutions to global poverty include anti-poverty campaigners pressing rich governments to honor promises made in the Millennium Declaration, lobbying for the removal of agricultural subsidies that protect rich farmers at the expense of poor ones. Countries should also be at the fore front of embracing MDG programs so as to build capacity of national and provincial institutions. Two countries with the greatest success in poverty reduction are China and Vietnam even though their strategies are often at odds with western models.
The medical profession, which is in the business of saving life and reducing suffering, should lead the world out of the trap of poverty and death from starvation and preventable diseases. The World Bank Development indicators of 2008 point out that infectious disease continue to blight the lives of the poor across the world with an estimated 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS. Also, every year there are 350-500 million cases of malaria with one million fatalities. Africa thus accounts for 90% of malarial deaths with African children accounting for over 80% of malaria victims worldwide.
With such grim statistics, it is clear that the medical profession plays a vital role in saving lives in developing countries and this can ultimately lead to poverty eradication as the population which is a critical resource to any country will not be wiped out. Medics are also actively involved in the health of children worldwide especially in poor countries. With 2. 2 million children dying worldwide due to lack of immunization and a greater number of 10. 6 million children dying worldwide before they reach the age of 5, the role of medicine cannot be gainsaid.
Further, lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation leads to the annual deaths of 1. 4 million children. By training more health professionals especially in developing countries, curbing such alarming statistics would be made possible. Averting children’s deaths builds a firm foundation for a country in its attempts to escape the clutches of poverty. Doctors can also get involved in highlighting and tackling water problems affecting half of humanity as some 1. 1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water with 2.
6 billion lacking basic sanitation. Sanitation issues have been known to cause 1. 8 million child deaths each year as a result of preventable ailments such as diarrhea. Doctors can help in educating communities on how best to tackle such relatively straightforward problems thus avoiding attendant problems caused by water and sanitation deficits. In conclusion, poverty has the effect of creating a ‘poverty cycle’ which operates across multiple levels i. e. individual, local, national and global with the affected sectors mostly being health, education and housing.
Although poverty reduction has historically come about as a result of economic growth, medicine and the medical profession in general ought to be at the forefront of fighting this global scourge as results have shown how much of an impact the programs they run have had an impact on communities around the globe. In the words of Anais Nin ‘If all of us acted in unison as I act individually there would be no wars and no poverty. I have made myself personally responsible for the fate of every human being who has come my way’. In a sense, this is the hallmark of the medical profession.