Too Broke to be Healthy?! How social inequalities affect mortality

It was sophomore year when I learned that my dad fell extremely ill and had to be hospitalized. I had absolutely no idea what was wrong or what could have caused him to become ill so I was not only nervous because of the fact that he was in the hospital,  I was also nervous knowing that he was thousands of miles away…in Congo (DRC)! Being somewhat familiar to the poor health system in the DRC, I automatically assumed that his health condition would slowly deteriorate. Although I didn’t have the means to physically be there for him, my family kept me informed about his status. He was in a coma for nearly 4 months and the causes of his illness are still unknown. Once he was strong enough, he managed to make his way back to the states and received the proper medical attention that he needed. Fortunately, he survived but I always wonder if the severity of his illness could have been avoided if people were more informed of the various risk factors associated to health. This particular health scare made me realize how much social inequalities have a major influence on health status.

Social inequalities often result in individuals being deprived of the essential resources needed to increase life expectancy. In less developed countries, basic resources such as clean water and proper sanitation are limited especially for those living in poverty. Due to the uneven development or relative poverty, there exists a variation in the quality of health care services offered to an individual. As noted in Ruger’s article, communicable disease is the major contributor to premature mortality in Africa whereas noncommunicable disease is the major contributor in most other nations. (2005) Many impoverished individuals lack adequate health care which in turn leads to increased death rates that could easily be prevented. These people at the bottom of the social class in society have been known to struggle the most because of economic deprivation, lack of proper education, and insecurity. So how can people living under the poverty level get a chance at survival with poor living conditions?…

It is safe to assume that less industrialized nations often encounter higher mortality rates than the more industrialized nations. These health inequalities force individuals to live in unfair circumstances as a result of their social class. Examining the determinants on a global level helps researchers isolate various health conditions and enables them to compare these determinants based on environments and cultural differences. Whether studying the poverty level or taking a deeper look at how level of education affects health, these social factors contribute to the attitudes and beliefs about health. Material deprivation can in fact have a harsh toll on the physical and mental well being of individuals within society; thus, provision of health care services is key to improving health status both between different countries and within countries.


Marmot, M. Social determinants of health inequalities. The Lancet 2005; 365:1099-04

Birn, A. E., Pillay, Y, Holtz, T. H. 2009 Textbook of International Health: Gobal Health in a Dynamic World” 3rd edition.

McNamara, M. K., Schirack, E., Sherry, D., Vereecke, A. Inequality and Drug Use.  The Genetic and Environmental Bases of Addiction. 2008


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