Addressing Global Health Inequalities: The Interconnection of Economic Development and Access to Healthcare

Global health inequalities persist, with access to healthcare closely intertwined with economic development and wealth. Despite the guarantee of a right to healthcare in many laws, the reality is that it remains unavailable and unaffordable, particularly in remote or underdeveloped regions. This article examines the disparities in healthcare access, affordability, and health outcomes, shedding light on the urgent need for global action.

The Interconnection of Population Health and Economic Development:

The Economist’s 2017 Global Access to Healthcare report emphasizes the crucial link between population health and economic development.[1] While a legal right to healthcare exists, many individuals, such as Ramila and Champalal, cannot afford even basic healthcare. This issue highlights the significant impact of economic factors on health outcomes. The report stresses that economic development and good population health are closely interconnected.

On a country-by-country basis, per capita health spending further highlights the stark differences in healthcare accessibility. Wealthier nations, such as Switzerland, Norway, and the U.S., allocate substantial resources to healthcare, with per capita spending reaching around $9,500. In contrast, countries like Pakistan face significant challenges, with per capita health spending as low as $36. India, ranked 145th out of 190 countries, allocates a modest $75 per capita for healthcare. These disparities in healthcare spending underline the substantial gaps in healthcare resources between nations.[2]

Variances in Life Expectancy

Life expectancy varies significantly across different regions, indicating the complex interplay between health and socioeconomic factors. Globally, life expectancy increased by over five years between 2000 and 2016, reaching an average of 72.[3] While this rise is encouraging, there remains a considerable gap between the top and bottom of the longevity league table. Japan boasts an average lifespan of almost 84 years, reflecting advanced healthcare systems and high living standards. In contrast, Sierra Leone struggles with an average life expectancy just past 50 years, a stark reminder of the challenges faced by many low-income countries. Several Asian nations, including India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, fall in between these extremes, with life expectancies ranging from 68 to 71 years.

Highlighting Global Health Statistics

The World Health Organization’s 2016 World Health Statistics provide critical insights into the global health landscape, offering a glimpse into the magnitude of health challenges faced by many populations. These statistics reveal the urgent need for targeted interventions and resource allocation to address key health issues:[4]

  • Complications of pregnancy and childbirth result in the death of approximately 303,000 women annually, highlighting the need for improved maternal healthcare services.
  • Tragically, 5.9 million children die before reaching their fifth birthday, emphasizing the importance of accessible and affordable pediatric care.
  • Neglected tropical diseases affect a staggering 1.7 billion people, necessitating immediate treatment and preventive measures.
  • Air pollution caused by cooking fuels leads to the deaths of 4.3 million individuals, highlighting the need for clean energy sources and improved environmental health.
  • Outdoor pollution contributes to the premature death of 3 million people worldwide, underscoring the significance of sustainable development and pollution control measures.

Examining Leading Causes of Death:

The leading causes of death worldwide shed light on the disparities between high-income and low-income countries. Heart disease tops the list, followed by stroke, pulmonary disease, lower respiratory infections, and Alzheimer’s/dementia.[5] These conditions are often associated with lifestyle factors and aging populations prevalent in wealthier nations. However, when we break down the causes of death in high-income and low-income countries, stark contrasts emerge. In high-income countries, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s/dementia, and various cancers dominate as leading causes. In contrast, lower respiratory infections and diarrhea are significant causes of death in low-income nations, alongside malaria and tuberculosis. The availability of prevention measures and access to treatment significantly impacts the prevalence and mortality rates of these diseases.[6]

Challenges in Healthcare Access and Affordability:

Even when healthcare is available, affordability remains a significant hurdle for many individuals, exacerbating health inequalities. Many countries provide government healthcare services, aiming to ensure access for all citizens. However, reaching rural communities and raising awareness of available support remains an ongoing challenge.[7] For example, one health insurance scheme in South Asia aimed to provide free treatment to over 20 million individuals. Despite this initiative, reaching remote areas and ensuring widespread awareness of the scheme has proven challenging.[8] In Africa, where up to 70 percent of health services are provided by the private sector, including faith-based organizations, further efforts are needed to ensure affordable and accessible healthcare for all.[9]

The urgent need for collaborative action to address global health inequalities is undeniable. Economic development, strengthened healthcare systems, and targeted interventions are key to bridging the gap in healthcare access and affordability. By supporting GFA World’s Medical Ministry and sponsoring medical camps, you can actively contribute to this important mission. Your generosity will enable us to bring comprehensive healthcare services to underserved communities, providing free checkups, treatments, medications, and health education. Together, let’s advocate for increased investments in healthcare infrastructure, innovative financing models, and equitable resource allocation. Join us in supporting GFA’s Medical Ministry and be a champion for accessible healthcare for all.

Learn more about healthcare access barriers

[1] Global Access to Healthcare: Building sustainable health systems. The Economist. June 22, 2017.
[2] Worldwide Spending on Healthcare. Emergo. July 2016.
[3] Life expectancy. World Health Organization. Accessed November 22, 2019.
[4] World Health Statistics 2016: Monitoring health for the SDGs. World Health Organization. Accessed November 20, 2019.
[5] The top 10 causes of death. World Health Organization. May 24, 2018.
[6] Despite substantial reduction in global diarrhea deaths, half a million children still die from diseases each year. The Lancet. June 1, 2017.
[7] Global Access to Healthcare: Building sustainable health systems. The Economist. June 22, 2017.
[8] Dhillon, Amrit. ‘It’s a godsend’: the healthcare scheme bringing hope to India’s sick. The Guardian. March 21, 2019.
[9] Global Access to Healthcare: Building sustainable health systems. The Economist. June 22, 2017.