Does wealth relate to health?

How do we make sense of all this data? This is a link to an animation of the relationship between health and wealth: gapminder

There are numerous TED Talks by Hans Rosling, a Swedish public health professor who developed the gapminder program, these talks are interesting and informative. Rosling uses his software to create visual representation of data, which allow analysis of trends over time. This is an interesting, 20 minute, talk that he gave at the US State Department where he calls for a re-framing of the term “developing world”: Hans Rosling TED Talk. Part of the argument posed by Rosling is that there is a huge degree of disparity within geographical regions, and within nations themselves, and also similarities between “developing” and “developed” nations.

The term “Developing Countries” might have made sense once.

Today it’s impossible to make a clear distinction between “developing” and “developed” countries.

In order to truly understand the root causes of disease we must gain an intimate understanding of the full context. Elements of Rosling’s lecture remind me of How to Write About Africa, by Binyavanga Wainaina.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.

Wainaina and Rosling both view sweeping generalizations as a hindrance to health gains. Rosling accomplishes his goals through visual demonstration, while Wainaina crafts toungue-in-cheek prose.

In regard to HIV/AIDS Rosling calls for increased preventive measures. From a purely statistical perspective this makes sense. The evolution of HIV from an infectious disease into a chronic and treatable condition has resulted in a larger and larger number of people living with HIV. Here is a shorter talk about HIV: Rosling HIV TED. Should international efforts combating HIV/AIDS focus on prevention over treatment? Can the two be so easily separated?

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2 comments
  1. jewelwint said:

    I am glad that you posted this talk by Hans Rosling. I saw it a couple of months ago and it has always stayed with me. We really do need to define what the term “developing world means,” and question why wealth is the main factor behind increasing rates of HIV and AIDS in developing countries. All people should be able to receive treatment but as to the question posed, prevention over treatment, I believe that the focus should be placed on prevention because it more affordable to teach preventative measures as opposed to providing medications to every one that is infected. We all know that if you teach someone how to fish they will eat for days, so it is the same for teaching someone how to protect themselves and decrease their risk of exposure.

  2. It seemed like Rosling had two quite disparate takes on Africa. One, as you point out, is that there is no “Africa” — there are dramatically different experiences in different parts of the region, and even in different areas of any one country. The other is that the countries of sub-Saharan Africa really are different from the rest of the world. This is even more evident if you look at some of the other Gapminder graphics. For instance, the one called “Africa is not a Country” illustrates the dramatic diversity of life expectancy, but also how African countries have been isolated from the rest of the world: http://www.bit.ly/9XcCku

    In this graphic, you see income and life expectancy both increasing over the past two centuries — but with African countries (in blue) being left behind, especially in the past 40 or so years.

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