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Human right health

The health situation in developing countries


A child in Somalia being immunised against polio.

The good news is that between 1970 and 2010, life expectancy in the de­vel­op­ing coun­tries rose from 40 to 70.1 years. Between 1990 and 2011 the under-five mortality rate for the world as a whole dropped from 89 to 51 per 1,000 live births.

The bad news is that in spite of this progress, very many people in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries still live with diseases like tuberculosis and malaria. In 2014 some 36.9 million people around the world were living with HIV, about 25.8 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Parasitic infections too are wide­spread among both children and adults, and in some cases are becoming more prevalent again.

Children’s health is at particular risk. Every year almost 7 million children in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries die before they reach the age of five. Millions more children suffer physical and mental disabilities as a result of illnesses. Respiratory tract infections and diarrhoea are responsible for almost one third of all child deaths in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

Girls and women

Health center in Thula, Yemen, supported by German funds. Copyright: Thomas Koehler/photothek.netThe health of women and girls is influenced by their status within the family and society. Gender-specific discrimination can have a negative impact on health-related behaviour, the risk of infection (e.g. with HIV) and access to health services, information and education.

Poor nutrition and frequent pregnancies, performing heavy work, re­spon­si­bil­i­ty for children and the family (which frequently falls to them) and lack of oppor­tu­ni­ties to live a self-determined life are a burden on the health of millions of women.

Every day women in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries die of the consequences of pregnancy and childbirth because they do not have access to adequate medical care. According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, every year up to five million women in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries suffer serious complications when abortions are carried out in unsafe conditions; nine per cent of deaths in preg­nancy are caused by unsafe abortions.

Causes of disease in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries

One of the commonest causes of disease is pov­er­ty. It is considered to be a contributory factor in the majority of all deaths.

Poverty prevents the sick receiving medical care. Often, it leads to hunger and malnutrition. People who cannot afford safe drinking water or a toilet fall sick more frequently and take longer to recover. Factors such as unemployment, lack of formal education and of family planning options can also have a negative impact on health.

Many poor people also suffer social dislocation, the possible consequences of which – prostitution, violence, crime and drug abuse – are associated with a very high risk to health. Further risk factors to health are armed hostilities and natural disasters. Poor people are also par­tic­u­lar­ly vulnerable to these.

Poor health systems

Patients waiting in a health care centre run by the German Doctors in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Copyright: Thomas Imo/photothek.netMany people in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries have no access to professional heath care. They do not have the money for medical treatment and nursing, or for attended births. The costs of essential medical services push millions of people into pov­er­ty. Neither can the poor afford to take effective measures to prevent disease.

Many coun­tries have no basic health care facilities available to the entire popu­la­tion. Most im­por­tant medical services, state-run and private, are available in towns and cities, where they often benefit only those who can pay for them.

Not only the poor, but ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and women and children are at a particular disadvantage. Without social protection systems, the risk that families will fall into pov­er­ty when they get sick is high.

Even though the political will to restructure health systems is there, most de­vel­op­ing coun­tries lack both the financial resources and health workers they would need to put in place an operational nationwide health system. There are also bottlenecks when it comes to the transport infrastructure.

Detailed information on Germany’s commitment to improving health systems in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries is available ​here.

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