Paying for the Sick in a World of 7 Billion and Growing

By: Faigy Abdelhak

The world will reach 7 billion people as of tomorrow, the 31st of October, 2011. You can watch this momentous occasion happen on the world population counter on the homepage of 7 Billion Actions, an initiative to collect stories of and encourage kindness among this growing mass of humanity. This marker, being reached on the day our class topic is “Paying for the Sick,” has crucial implications for just this conundrum.

The ability, or lack thereof, to pay for the sick in the developing world is tightly related to this burgeoning growth. The bulk of this exponential growth is occurring in developing countries, as developing countries currently account for 84 percent of the world population (Gottret, vi) and there are projections that “the populations in 50 of the poorest countries will double by 2050” (Gottret, 2).

Furthermore, the developing world accounts for 90 percent of the disease burden and only 12 percent of health spending (Gottret, vi). In addition to finding ways to bridge the health spending gap between developed and developing countries, investments in family planning in the developing world also need to a become a larger part of this conversation. They are, in fact, intertwined conversations; there are less sick people to pay for if family sizes decrease. This may be one part of the many facets that comprise the greater solution to equitable, global health care.

According to the United Nations Population Agency, it has been a mistake to focus so heavily on the HIV/AIDS epidemic at the expense of family planning issues. Recently, in a blog post of The Guardian entitled “Focus on HIV-Aids Cost Family Planning a Decade, says UN Population Chief,” it cites the executive director of the UN Population Fund, Babatunde Osotimehin, lamenting that family planning “fell off the radar” due to the focus on HIV-Aids. He says, “It was going to be impossible for me to stand up in a country where young men and women are dying and to say ‘Excuse me I think you need to cut down on birth rates’. It was just not kosher.” He continues, “You couldn’t begin to tell people ‘You know, you are still having too many children,’ when they had just lost their kids.”

This is not to say that HIV-Aids treatment isn’t vastly important, but it is to say that those concerned with HIV and those concerned with reproductive health have stood staunchly in two separate camps instead of collaborating. Therefore, women had to try to visit a variety of clinics to get their needs met. Osotimehin is not for setting arbitrary population limits, but rather he is advocating for larger portions of resources in and going to the developing world to be allocated towards encouraging family planning and not simply focusing on disease.

Viewing family planning as a part of the umbrella conversation about paying for the sick may seem like a stretch, but in fact they are in many ways parts of the same conversation. Just as communicable and non-communicable diseases have found themselves pitted against each other for funding and attention, so to have population and disease control. Only once we begin to see these arenas as part of a cohesive, holistic whole will the world begin real healing.

Goldenberg, Suzanne. “Focus on HIV-Aids cost family planning a decade, says UN population chief,” The Guardian: Environment: Crowded Planet. 24 October 2011.
Gottret, P, Schieber, G. (2006) “Health financing revisited: a practitioner’s guide, Overview,” World Bank Publication, pp. 1-23.


One response to “Paying for the Sick in a World of 7 Billion and Growing

  1. Another related article was recently written by Kristoff yesterday, so I couldn’t resist sharing:

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