Nowhere is the difference between rich and poor more clearly seen than in the health care system. In developing nations millions are dying from preventable diseases and the spread of HIV/AIDS is devastating families, economies and cultures.
Investment in health care is not only morally priceless, it also allows people to work harder and for longer meaning that they can maintain a decent living and improve their quality of life. Achieving better healthcare will require a major commitment by donor countries who will need to help provide what developing nations cannot afford.
There are many approaches to improving healthcare, but vaccinations and education are probably the two most cost-effective. Thanks to the polio child vaccination programme we can now imagine a world free from this terrible illness, and the potential for eradicating other such diseases is immense. Education is another cheap but powerful weapon in the fight against infection as we can stop a wide variety of ailments simply by encouraging people to maintain better hygiene
While developing nations suffer from a range of dreadful diseases, perhaps the single largest health issue facing them is HIV/AIDS, which affects 40 million people worldwide. About 8% of the entire sub-Saharan African population are infected, and it was responsible for killing 2 million people in that region alone last year. Not only does this deadly virus destroy families, it also tends to strike the young who contribute most to the economy, forcing desperate nations into even greater poverty.
The ABC approach of “Abstinence, Being Faithful and Contraception” is one of the most popular methods of conveying how the deadly virus can be prevented from spreading. This approach recognises both the importance of contraception and the value of changing attitudes and lifestyles, a dual approach which has the potential to make a long-term impact on the problem.
HIV/AIDS will remain a problem for many, many years but the message is beginning to get through in some areas, particularly Uganda which seems to have been remarkably successful in reducing the spread of the virus. We hope and pray that the situation will improve throughout the world before it decimates entire civilisations.
Availability of drugs
A problem for most developing nations, exemplified in their attempts to fight AIDS, is the huge cost of buying effective medication. The major pharmaceutical companies who are responsible for developing new drugs are reluctant to sell their products at a low cost as this will reduce their profits.
While some Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), such as charities and advocacy groups, bemoan the greed of these companies, it should be realised that this is not a clear issue of “evil capitalism”. Pharmaceutical companies invest billions of dollars in research and development, all of which must be financed. As government funding or private donations would not even come close to providing adequate funding, these companies are forced to raise capital from shareholders.
These shareholders are intelligent, rational people who are investing their savings, meaning that they will want to invest in companies who are likely to be profitable, giving these shareholders a good return on their investment. Therefore if these companies did focus on low-profit worthy causes for the Third World they would be unable to find anyone willing to invest in them, causing them to go out of business which would mean they would be unable to continue any research at all.
If both sides are to be satisfied a compromise which allows drug companies to make a healthy profit which encourages further research must be found. As the market for drugs for “Third World diseases” is potentially huge it must surely be possible to reach such a solution. Ignoring patents and property rights as some developing nations have decided to do is unlikely to produce the best results in the long-run.