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The Global Burden of Disease — an article on the Smart Living Network
September 2, 2009 at 4:25 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

The Global Burden of Disease


Every year Americans spend billions and billions of dollars on health care. Just to prove that this isnt an exaggeration, last year the U.S. spent $1.4 trillion on health care alone. But lost money isnt the only way people suffer from disease. In countries where malaria and HIV are prevalent, agriculture suffers, family roles are broken down, national economies are damaged, and education flounders. While we will likely never be completely free of disease, its worth the time to stop and be humbled by just how much disease affects the world.

Social Impact

Because AIDS is a chronic disease with no cure, its rampant spread throughout southern Africa has had an immense impact on the social structure of millions of African families. When the main breadwinner is sickened with AIDS a substantial amount of the familys income is lost. Medical costs also greatly diminish family income. Other members of a household may miss work or school to care for a sick family member. Many children are orphaned when both parents die from AIDS, causing extreme overpopulation of orphanages.


Malaria and HIV also greatly affect agriculture. Mosquitoes carrying the malaria-causing parasite can infect humans and animals. Populations that depend on animal agriculture like cows and sheep are limited in areas their animals can graze. If an area of land is home to mosquitoes known to carry malaria, the land is considerable non-arable and cannot be used for agriculture. This affects a huge proportion of the land in South America and Africa. When farm laborers are sick with malaria or AIDS, not only is productivity affected but also the kind of crops that are farmed. Malaria can cause a laborer to miss at least a week of work. Higher-maintenance crops like cotton, corn, and other vegetables which may be used as export crops (i.e. a major source of income) are often substituted with crops that can be easier maintained due to lack of labor.


National economies suffer greatly with the labor lost caused by sickness or death from disease. With less labor available farms and companies cannot produce what is needed for exports, resulting in less income. Income from tourism is usually completely lost when disease takes over an area. Governments must spend more money on health care with the maintenance of health care facilities and the purchasing of drugs and supplies. Public health interventions like pesticide spraying or distribution of mosquito netting (in the case of malaria) can take money away from the national economy.


The extremely low-income families of central Southern America and sub-Saharan Africa often see education as a luxury, and rightly so. Family members sick or dead from disease must be replaced in order to maintain income, often at the educational expense of younger family members. Malaria can cause children who do attend school to miss weeks at a time. The seizures caused by malaria have also been shown to effect childrens cognitive function, resulting in lowered IQ. So the next time you whine from a cold or a $30 doctors appointment co-pay, think about the impact disease could have on your life if you didnt live in a developed country. Sources:

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