- Describe how the nations of the world differ in important indicators of health and illness.
- Explain the health-care model found in industrial nations other than the United States.
As we have seen in previous chapters, understanding what happens in other societies helps us to understand what happens in our own society. This section’s discussion of health and health care across the globe, then, helps shed some light on what is good and bad about US health and medicine.
International Disparities in Health and Illness
The nations of the world differ dramatically in the quality of their health and health care. The poorest nations suffer terribly. Their people suffer from poor nutrition, unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, rampant disease, and inadequate health care. One disease they suffer from is AIDS. Some 34 million people worldwide have HIV/AIDS, and two-thirds of these live in sub-Saharan Africa. Almost two million people, most of them from this region, died in 2010 from HIV/AIDS (World Health Organization, 2011). All these health problems produce high rates of infant mortality and maternal mortality and high death rates. For all these reasons, people in the poorest nations have shorter life spans than those in the richest nations.
A few health indicators should indicate the depth of the problem. Figure 13.1 “Infant Mortality for Low-Income, Lower-Middle-Income, Higher-Middle-Income, and High-Income Nations, 2010” compares an important indicator, infant mortality (number of deaths before age 1 per 1,000 live births) for nations grouped into four income categories. The striking contrast between the two groups provides dramatic evidence of the health problems poor nations face. When, as Figure 13.1 “Infant Mortality for Low-Income, Lower-Middle-Income, Higher-Middle-Income, and High-Income Nations, 2010” indicates, 70 children in the poorest nations die before their first birthday for every 1,000 live births (equivalent to 7 out of 100), the poor nations have serious problems indeed.
Figure 13.2 “Percentage of Population with Access to Adequate Sanitation Facilities, 2008” shows how the world differs in access to adequate sanitation facilities (i.e., the removal of human waste from the physical environment, as by toilets). Whereas this percentage is at least 98 percent in the wealthy nations of North America, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, it is less than 33 percent in many poor nations in Africa and Asia.
Life expectancy is another important measure of a nation’s health and is very relevant for understanding worldwide disparities in health and health care. Figure 13.3 “Average Life Expectancy across the Globe (Years)” illustrates these disparities. Not surprisingly, the global differences in this map are similar to those for adequate sanitation in the map depicted in Figure 13.2 “Percentage of Population with Access to Adequate Sanitation Facilities, 2008”. North America, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand have much longer life expectancies (75 years and higher) than Africa and Asia, where some nations have expectancies below 50 years. The society we live in can affect our life span by more than a quarter of a century.