Poverty and Health Care in Africa

Anthony Imudia MD
COIMF Executive Director

It is no coincidence that COIMF is focusing on health care. The UNDP Human Development Report (2013) and the World Bank World Development Report (2007) estimated that 54% of the total population of Sub Sahara Africa is living in absolute poverty. This poverty limits access to services and increasing vulnerability. While ill health directly affects productivity, especially in labor-intensive economies. The poor are the most exposed to the risks of hazardous environments, and the least informed about threats to health. It is the poor who bear the brunt of crude structural adjustment policies, unregulated globalization, HIV/AIDS epidemics, malaria, and tuberculosis.
Africa experiences a disproportionate burden of poverty, disease, and death with appalling disparities within and between countries. This is complicated by the attenuation of the human resource capital through death, disease, civil wars, as well as inappropriate training programs. Africa continues to suffer under the yoke of the unjust world order: unbalanced global trade; reduced prices of the primary products that Africa relies on for international trade; and a rising debt burden. The era of structural adjustment and free market approaches to health care has resulted in reduced public-sector involvement in health, including the loss of health workers through retrenchment and recruitment, embargoes that may have deprived the poorer and rural communities of access to health services. Most workers in Africa are in the agricultural sector, characterized by seasonal underemployment, drought, famine, and other disasters. Also, many rural families have taken on additional children due to the increasing numbers of AIDS’ orphans. This has led to a relentless rural-to-urban migration in the last three decades due to poverty and access to free anti-retroviral therapies (ARTs).