Health and Environmental Issues in the Middle East and Third World Countries
The World health organization states that "More than three million children under five die each year from environment-related causes and conditions. This makes the environment one of the most critical contributors to the global toll of more than ten million child deaths annually..." (The environment and health for children and their mothers) This report serves to illustrate the fact that third world and developing countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia suffer for a vast array of health and environmental issues. These include aspects such as pollution, inadequate sanitation, toxic hazards, and numerous diseases as well as retarded or degraded ecosystems and societal infrastructures.
The Word Health Organization (WHO) points out that these issues are particularly serious in developing countries where " environmental hazards and pollution are a major contributor to ....deaths, illnesses and disability ... " (ibid) These aspects are also associated with poor urban and rural environments. Furthermore, it is the developed counties who mostly benefit from new technologies that have been created to combat disease and improve health conditions, whereas " In developing countries, infectious diseases, poverty, lack of clean water and inadequate healthcare continue to cause millions of preventable deaths every year. " (Green, 2004. p.34)
Among some of the worst diseases that have troubled Africa and Asia are the following: SARS or Severe acute Respiratory Syndrome, which is a viral respiratory illness that was first reported in Asia in February 2003. The disease quickly spread to other regions including North and South America. HIV / AIDS is a disease which has become an extremely serious issue in Africa and has increased in intensity in many Asian countries. The WHO has compiled an extensive list of other environmental and health issues that are prevalent in developing counties. These include the following.
Diarrhoea, which kills an estimated 1.6 million children each year, and is caused mainly by unsafe water and poor sanitation.
Indoor air pollution associated with the still-widespread use of biomass fuels
Malaria, which may be exacerbated as a result of poor water management and storage, inadequate housing, deforestation and loss of biodiversity, kills an estimated one million children under five annually, mostly in Africa.
A number of these factors also apply to the Middle Eastern countries as well. Many countries in this region also suffer from poverty and related heath issues as well as from toxic waste and the effect of war on the environment and health situation.
It is important to understand that all of these issues do not take place in isolation and are inextricably intertwined with other factors such as politics, civil war and other societal and governmental issues that hamper and retard health development. In Africa and the Middle East for example the issue of civil strife and war has had a profound impact on the health environment. The influence of globalization and the international economic structure also impacts on environmental and health issues. Another factor that needs to be considered in this regard is the failure of many developed countries to implement agreement and accords, such as the Kyoto Accord intended to reduce environmental hazards and pollution. Many of these aspects will be discussed in the following study in an attempt to provide a general overview of health and environmental issue in these regions.
2. Poverty, AIDS and war in Africa and Asia
The environment and health are central issues of concern in Africa and Asia. The dilemma for Africa in terms of the above aspects is summarized in the following quotation.
With a total population of about 450 million, half of Africa's residents have no access to health services and two-thirds lack safe drinking water, according to a 1991 report by the World Bank. Most Africans are also gravely affected by poverty, civil war, indoor and outdoor pollutants, microbes that cause life-threatening diarrhea, tropical diseases such as malaria, rapid population growth, inadequate sanitation and sewage treatment, poor environmental management, corrupt government policies, desertification and deforestation, mining, and the overuse of pesticides and insecticides.
(Clay Rebecca. 1994)
Adding to this rather gloomy scenario is the fact that increases in diseases related to environmental issues has an impact on the productivity of many countries in both Africa and Asia. This has the concomitant effect of making it difficult to generate revenue needed to improve the health environment.
One positive aspect is that Industrial pollutants are still a relatively rare occurrence. This is due to the fact that about eighty percent of sub-Saharan Africa remains pastoral or agro-pastoral. (ibid) However this situation is undergoing radical change as urban populations are growing, with the result that industry is increasing in major cities causing greater exposure to toxic waste. To add to this problem, "Developed countries are also shipping their most dangerous wastes to the continent because their own stringent environmental laws and high costs of disposal can make it difficult and expensive to dispose of them at home." (ibid) The World Health Organization also states that this waste disposal to developing counties is " ... rarely accompanied by concern about the health of those involved or living near disposal sites." ( ibid)
One of the greatest scourges that have now reached epidemic proportions in both African and Asian countries is the increasing rate of HIV / AIDS infections. HIV / AIDS is one of the most prevalent and devastating diseases in the world today. It has already killed millions throughout the world, especially in developing countries in Africa. The statistics over the last few decades are evidence of the growth and devastating effect of this virus. The total number of recorded deaths due to HIV / AIDS, between 1981 and 2003, was a staggering 20-million. The number of children in Sub-Saharan Africa who were orphaned by the end of 2003 was an estimated 12-million. Later figures indicate that the situation in Africa is not improving, with these figures increasing in 2004, especially among women in Africa. "By December 2004 women accounted for 47% of all people living with HIV worldwide, and for 57% in sub-Saharan Africa." (World HIV and Aids Statistics) The continued increase in HIV infections and AIDS related deaths is a cause for alarm, particularly in developing countries. The figures and statistics speak for themselves and the growing number of those infected is having a dramatic effect on various parts of the world. The problem of HIV infections is also compounded by the increasing need for reduced medicine costs in developing countries.
HIV and Aids is also the largest cause of fatalities in children younger than five, accounting for 40% of deaths. The latest figures on HIV / AIDS have come as a shock to many who assumed that the HIV infection rate had reached saturation point. A recent survey on HIV / AIDS in South Africa states that "More than 6.2 million South Africans were infected by HIV / AIDS by last year, an increase of 700,000 from 2003." (New report shows HIV / AIDS increase in South Africa) There have also been reports of significant increases in the prevalence of HIV and AIDS in Asia. "Asia is facing an exploding HIV / AIDS epidemic. Until the late 1980s, no Asian country had experienced a major AIDS epidemic, but by the late 1990s, the disease was well established across the region." (HIV / AIDS in Asia) AIDS has been called a "silent tsunami" by experts that place all of Asia in danger. (Lies, Elaine. 2005)
These studies show that Asia is showing sings of an in the number of infections and deaths. "One in four new infections occurs in Asia and 1,500 die in the region each day. The disease has spread to all provinces in China, the world's most populous nation, while India has the second-highest number of AIDS/HIV patients after South Africa. " ( ibid) Surveys by UNAIDS also indicate that in 2003, over one million people were newly infected with HIV in Asia and the Pacific, bringing the total number of people living with HIV / AIDS in the region to 7.4 million. (Overview of HIV / AIDS in Asia and the Pacific) These facts could very possibly have a profound impact on the region and the world, as Asia accounts for approximately sixty percent of the world's population.
The high incidence of HIV infections in any region severely affects the health and environment and sets up a series of reactions that increasingly exacerbates attempts to rectify health problems. Almost every AIDS victim in Africa is likely to leave behind several dependents. And, according to the most recent data from the World Health Organization (WHO), more than seven million African adults are already HIV-positive and face almost certain death. In a study by a UNICEF consultant, Susan Hunter, it was found that,
After only two years' time between 1989 and 1991 ... The proportion of children who had lost their mother to AIDS (WHO's working definition of AIDS orphans) had almost doubled,…
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