Monday October 7 is Child Health Day. A day intended to raise people’s awareness of how they can protect and develop children’s health. The following post is by Christie Lacey. Christie was an Intern with Opportunity International in the Summer of 2013.
Imagine living in an area where you are lucky to live past 45, the infant mortality rate is 17 percent and more than 34 million children are orphans due to poor healthcare. This is the reality of life in sub-Saharan Africa. The African continent is at the epicenter of a health crisis caused by a combination of poor education, low funds and insufficient access to healthcare.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the African region carries 24 percent of the world’s disease burden but produces only 3 percent of its workers and less than 1 percent of the world’s health expenditure. The cycle of poverty both causes and exacerbates the poor health of people in Africa. People living in poverty often reside in overcrowded living conditions, are malnourished, and lack education as well as access to clean water and healthcare facilities. These factors leave them extremely vulnerable to a wide range of infectious diseases. Poor health prolongs the cycle of poverty by causing low productivity and creating large numbers of orphans. There’s also the expense that goes along with disease treatment.
Unlike developed nations such as the U.S., where our greatest health issues are noncommunicable illness such as heart disease, in sub-Saharan Africa infectious diseases cause the biggest problems. Communicable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS are the No. 1 cause of death on the African continent. These are preventable and treatable diseases that can be significantly reduced through education and simple preventative measures.
Opportunity International is taking a step toward solving the African health crisis by addressing both sides of the issue. Opportunity provides health education to our loan clients through Trust Groups. Our Trust Groups comprise 10 to 30 loan clients who participate in a training course on financial literacy, business practices and healthcare issues. They learn about common infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, and how to treat and prevent them.
By providing our clients with loans we help them to work their way out of poverty. With access to financial services they are able to make more money and enjoy better nutrition and living conditions, becoming, as a result, less vulnerable to infectious diseases. These financial services empower entrepreneurs to serve their communities by creating jobs and improving access to clean water, healthcare and education.
In this way Opportunity takes a unique, multifaceted approach to helping lift communities out of poverty. Our clients inspire us by overcoming these barriers, transforming their communities and working toward a healthier Africa.