Sunday, October 25, 2009

Unhealthy focus on disasters

Professor Lawrence Gostin of Melbourne University and professor of public health at Johns Hopkins University in the Age (Australia): …While emergencies can bring out the best in humankind, the media attention and public outpouring they elicit does little to address the everyday struggle endured by the world's poorest people. If we genuinely want to alleviate suffering and save lives, we must confront the vicious cycle of poverty and early death.

…The first step in disaster-preparedness is to understand where critical risks lie. Disasters do not always strike suddenly. Drought-related water and food shortages, for example, are just as much disasters as earthquakes, causing profound social and economic disruption, as are the 6 million deaths every year from TB, malaria and AIDS alone.

...In regions with extremely poor health, economic decline is almost inevitable, putting pressure on international relief budgets and having an impact on economies. The World Bank estimates that AIDS, for example, has reduced GDP by nearly 20 per cent in the most affected countries. Extremely poor health is also a recognised global security threat; the CIA concludes that high infant mortality is a leading predictor of state failure and there is a strong correlation between very poor health indicators and political instability, mass migration and the recruitment of disaffected individuals to armed groups and terrorist networks.

…I propose the adoption of a ''Global Plan for Justice''. Governments would devote resources to the global plan based on their ability to pay, for example 0.05 per cent of GDP, and funding would be based on health needs measured by poverty, morbidity, and premature mortality.

Building basic survival capacity - through access to sanitation and sewerage, pest control, clean air and water, diet and nutrition, tobacco reduction, essential medicines and vaccines, and well-functioning health systems - is not as glamorous as disaster rescue. But it has the potential for extraordinary humanitarian gains, because such measures tackle the major causes of disease, disability, and suffering across the world.

A water well by the road side north of Tieshan (Huangshi Prefecture-Level City, Hubei), shot by Vmenkov, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

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