In the developing world, women and children are highly susceptible to preventable diseases and conditions such as malaria and malnutrition. In the developed world, demographic changes are placing more strain upon national health care systems than ever before. In ‘Health Matters’ we explore how people throughout the globe are attempting to cope with life’s medical challenges.
More than 10 million children die every year, most from preventable causes and almost all in poor countries. Many children that survive scrape a living on the streets, and are a tragic aspect of many African cities. In Kenya, there are at least 300,000 street children, half of who are in the capital city, Nairobi. An organisation called GOAL is working with these street children to improve their lives. A grant of £18,000 (about US$32,000; €26,000) has enabled GOAL to create a mobile clinic to provide for the medical needs of the most vulnerable children in Nairobi.
In Ghana, 84,000 people die of diarrhoea-related causes each year, with 25 per cent being children under five years old. Although water and sanitation conditions are improving, a change in attitude is needed if people are to benefit fully from the opportunities for improved health. In Ghana, people wash their hands in water before they eat. However, it is important that this water is not contaminated, particularly as people usually eat with their hands. Unable to guarantee that the water is not contaminated, the government has launched a campaign to wash with soap before eating. This campaign involves televised ‘infomercials’ and the sale of soaps made from local products
Diabetes mellitus is a chronic and currently incurable condition in which the body is unable to regulate blood sugar levels. Diabetics have to monitor their own blood sugar levels by testing their blood and recording the results. A new technology is making this process easier. Using mobile phone technology, diabetics can record their blood sugar levels and remotely send them to a database run by the Department of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford. This provides the patient with detailed information on their health trends.
The Big Cough
The widespread nature of tuberculosis (TB) in Malawi has led to the country being dubbed ‘The Big Cough’. With the number of TB cases more than doubling in the past 15 years, the time is ripe for change. Malawi’s National Tuberculosis Control Programme has approached this through a partnership with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. The resulting initiative has produced new ways of encouraging TB patients to seek treatment – for example, storekeepers have been given the power to diagnose their customers with TB, and so can refer patients directly to hospital.
The demographic changes occurring in Europe are well documented and impossible to misinterpret. Fewer children are born today than twenty years ago and people are living longer. These two trends give rise to a process known as population ageing. A key concern of an ageing population is the welfare of the increasing numbers of elderly living alone in their homes. The Spanish Red Cross has initiated a ‘home tele-assistance’ to provide on-demand, cost-effective, efficient and high quality health care to the home.
The UN 2000-01 survey of Uganda showed that 23 per cent of children under the age of 5 were seriously underweight and 19 per cent of the total population were undernourished. Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) plays a large part in this serious national health problem, with children and childbearing women being most at risk. To help resolve the problem of VAD a collaborative effort has begun to encourage the cultivation and consumption of a new orange-fleshed sweet potato. The variety is richer in vitamin A than most, and may hold the key to improving the nutritional intake of Uganda’s most at-risk groups.