It’s comforting to think of health as a matter of personal lifestyle. Perhaps it's equally discomforting to think you might not have total control over your physical well-being. Here in the West we like to distill our ideas of health down to a handful of abstract decisions which sustain some notion of autonomous personal choice: Do I hop on the couch or the treadmill? Should I take it easy on the coffee? Birthday cake? Cigarettes? Is it time for a check-up?
Then, of course, there are the limitless varieties of answers brought to you by the free market. You can buy a Bowflex, go organic, sign up for yoga class, drink light beer or perhaps settle with an acai berry and colloidal silver concoction that’ll undo fifteen years of bodily neglect in one easy payment. There’s no shortage of ways to embrace or ignore your personal health in the first world, but for 1.1 billion people on the planet the very opposite is true.
Apart from lacking ubiquitous commerce peddling health and wellness from every angle, the third world remains effectively barred—geographically, economically and politically—from attaining what we here consider basic health provisions that sustain the current potential of a 21st century human lifespan. Their very landscape of well being bears almost no resemblance to that of the western world; obesity, diabetes and other afflictions of excess blooming in the West are conversely absent in the developed world. While Angolans could contract potentially fatal bush diseases like malaria in their backyards, we stay insulated in our concrete metropolises. So what’s the real debaser in this equation?
The biggest third world diseases have, at some point, also been the biggest in the first world. Malnutrition, pneumonia, tuberculosis and of course HIV/AIDS; we know the trouble is lack of medicine, treatment and general resources to meet the challenge. Some argue this awareness in the West has only aggravated the issue, forming capitalist networks which perpetually profit from distributing “some aid but, tragically, not enough” to countries in need, rather than inspiring real systemic changes in these underprivileged countries. Whether or not you agree, identifying the world’s darkest areas in health and wellness should no doubt be part of the solution.
We've ranked the world’s 10 unhealthiest countries according to the Social Progress Imperative 2013 health and wellness measures. For contrast, the healthiest countries score nearly 70 on the index.
10 Rwanda: 35.65
9 South Africa: 35.28
8 Ghana: 35.24
7 Senegal: 35.14
6 Kenya: 32.49
5 Botswana: 30.36
4 Uganda: 26.97
3 Nigeria: 26.18
2 Mozambique: 23.59
1 Ethiopia: 23.03
It’s the number one pity case for international poverty and suffering. It’s where every other socially-conscious college graduate considers spending a summer. Unfortunately it’s also a pitiful reputation that’s mostly warranted, with a single medical doctor per 100,000 people across the country. For a sense of reference, the healthiest country in the SPI index (the U.K.) has a score of 68.1. Ethiopia’s fraction of that comes from an average lifespan of 48, and chronic disease spreading in poor areas augmented by pervasive superstitions around causes and cures for illness.
That you contract gonorrhea from touching a stone covered in female dog urine is a common belief in some rural communities. In others, eating a black goat’s reproductive organs will cure the same part of your own body. To most of the world, these beliefs extend beyond the absurd and ridiculous. But perhaps the greater absurdity is a country caught between antiquated lifestyles and challenges of the modern age; hundreds of millions forced to fight off new world diseases without new world cures or access to education.
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