When I think about the question “what ails the world?” I think of two distinct things – the first being general diseases and medical issues, and the second being structural violence and inequality. In other words, the world faces problems such as emerging and reemerging infectious diseases, antibiotic resistant infections, cancer, etc. In addition to those, however, it faces problems that can generally be traced back to inequality and structural violence. Access to adequate food and clean drinking water and access to medical care itself serve as appropriate examples of this. Pollution and exposure to war and other forms of violence do as well. All of these things affect a person’s health and wellbeing, and they are problems across the globe. Diseases are a big problem, but without an environment in which health is possible, fighting disease becomes and even bigger battle.
To start, let’s look at general diseases and health issues. For a few months, you couldn’t read the news without seeing a mention of Ebola. There has been a recent spike of confirmed cases of Dengue Fever in Hawaii. The problem of drug resistant bacteria has been growing, especially when it comes to multi-drug-resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB). Cancer and other more long term or chronic conditions (heart disease, disabilities and mental illness, diabetes, etc.) can place a great burden on individual health and overall health of a society.
All of these problems are only exacerbated by an unequal access to quality health care and treatment. When I become sick, I can always see a doctor and, if necessary, get the medicine I need. This is not a fact everywhere. A person living in a country with little to no health infrastructure does not have that access, and sometimes neither does a person I sit next to in a classroom. The problem of access to care is a global problem with no easy solution.
In addition, there is the problem of actually having a healthy environment to live in. Clean drinking water is an especially huge problem, as unsafe drinking water can spread Cholera or lead to things such as lead poisoning. We have seen this arise all over the world after natural disasters, in conflict zones (including current conflicts in Iraq and Syria where various groups fight for control of dams and rivers), in low and middle income countries, and, most recently, in Flint, Michigan. Access to food is equally pressing, from drought affected areas to people living in poverty across the globe. There are “food deserts” in a multitude of places in the United States, there are refugee camps and other areas created by conflict and disaster where people may struggle to have enough food to eat every day – we have seen starvation used as a weapon of war on more than one occasion.
In addition, pollution is a global problem leading to an innumerable amount of health issues. Recently, SoCal Gas’ Aliso Canyon Storage Facility has had a major leak, sickening many people in nearby town Porter Ranch, and leading some to temporarily relocate and local schools to close. Areas around the world home to various kinds of factories, tanneries, smelting plants, and mining operations experience sometimes extreme amounts of pollution of their air, soil, and water supply.
Health is more than just having or not having an illness. It is having access to an environment that makes health an achievable state to begin with. It involves being able to access adequate treatment when illness does happen, and not risk financial ruin doing so. The world faces many dangerous illnesses. It also faces a lot of structural problems that makes treating those illnesses even more difficult.