What Ails the World?

What ails the world differs based upon where you look. In the United States and other developed countries, chronic health issues tend to be caused, not by communicable diseases, but rather by things like cancer, osteoarthritis, muscular and skeletal issues, and autoimmune disorders. Deaths are more likely to be related to heart disease, strokes, and cancer. Automobile accidents and injury also cause a great deal of disability and death, and mental health cannot be overlooked as a major cause of disability.

In developing countries, many of the major health issues are caused by communicable diseases. Malaria, AIDS, and infections such as tuberculosis continue to cause much of the suffering primarily in developing countries, and unclean or unsafe living conditions lead to many chronic health issues and even deaths. The effects of non-communicable diseases, injury, and mental health issues in developing countries are, however, severely underrated. This is exemplified by the fact that the Millennium Development Goals focused on issues such as child disease and mortality, maternal mortality, and communicable diseases, while these issues actually account for less than half of death and disease in the world.

We tend to see the world as either developed countries with one set of health issues or developing countries with separate health issues without realizing that many of these health issues overlap a great deal. This separation can cause us to undervalue the importance of addressing mental health, heart disease, cancer, injury, etc. in developing countries as well as to ignore the presence of communicable diseases and maternal health issues in developed countries. If we truly want to address the real health problems that people in our world face, we should utilize a system of determining which health problems cause the most suffering and death that relies on numbers rather than which diseases have the greatest advocacy.

Certainly one can list the health problems that cause the most pain and suffering in the world, and it is also possible to rank these problems based on which cause the most deaths or the most disability. What ails the world, however, is much greater than a list of diseases that are inevitable. In order to truly understand what ails the world, we must also focus on what causes the health problems that we face. Any doctor will tell you that preventing a health problem in the first place is easier than eradicating it.

Most of the health problems that we face today are preventable. Communicable diseases are most common in developing countries because of lack of sanitation as well as lack of education. Risk of heart disease and stroke can be greatly reduced by changes in lifestyle, as can lower back pain. Maternal health can be improved by educational measures. Injuries and homicides are often linked to poverty or lack of automobile safety regulations. Lack of access to affordable healthcare is also a major problem in our health system, and not only in poorer countries. Even in the United States, people who lack affordable healthcare or coverage for chronic or mental health conditions go untreated. What ails the world is more than specific diseases; it is the systematic problems that cause these ailments.