The 3P’s: Poverty, Poor Housing and Health
In recent years, environmental health science has broadened the scope of its inquiries, expanding its investigations beyond the effects of single pollutants on individuals to incorporate the entire panorama of external factors that may affect people’s health. Consideration of the health impacts of the built environment—the human-modified places where we live, work, play, shop, and more has been a key element in the ongoing evolution of the field of environmental health.
Healthy housing means more than a roof over one’s head. It also means adequate privacy; adequate space, physical accessibility, adequate security, security of tenure, structural stability and durability, adequate lighting, heating and ventilation, adequate basic infrastructure facilities, suitable environmental quality and health related factors, and accessible location with regards to work and basic facilities; all of which should be available at an affordable cost.
Poverty, poor housing and poor health worldwide are inextricably linked. People dwell in poor housing due to poverty and lack which correspondingly and consequently causes poor health. The causes of poor health for millions globally are rooted in political, social and economic injustices. Poverty is both a cause and a consequence of poor health. Poverty increases the chances of poor health. Poor health in turn traps communities in poverty. Infectious and neglected tropical diseases kill and weaken millions of the poorest in undesirable housing, and most vulnerable people each year.
Desirable residential environment (homes, neighborhood and communities) should play an important role in determining individuals’ well-being. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reckons that it is the home, not the clinic that is the key to a better healthy delivery system. However, in developing countries, only about 25 to 30 percent inhabitants, mainly top government officials and other rich and privileged people in the society enjoy decent quality housing. The vast majority of households especially those in informal settlements, live in over-crowded conditions, within defective physical dwellings sometimes located on areas which do not provide defense against diseases and other health hazards because many people do not have secure tenure with respect to land and houses they occupy. They have little inclination to improve the quality of the houses and the general environment due to constant threats of forced eviction. Therefore, housing and the quality of housing significantly impact on health.
Poor housing condition will invariably lead to variety of health problem which includes scabies, asthma, malaria, diarrhea, depression, stress, respiratory diseases, influenza, tuberculosis, meningitis, lead poisoning, and HIV/AID pandemic among others.
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In the late 1970s, the International health leaders gathered to ponder on what the health of the World would look like in year 2000. The leaders’ crystal ball showed vast improvements and essentially healthy population all over the world. In other words, in a little over 25 years (from the mid 20th century) global public health efforts had met with enormous success in diseases control and even total eradication of smallpox, one of the world’s worst health scourges. In addition, infant and child mortality had dropped in the face of massive campaigns, food supplements and new treatment of common illnesses. With this development, health professionals felt that given the will in terms of political resolve and adequate resources, the world would be transformed into a healthy place in the 21st century.
However, available evidence shows that, in spite of overall progress, good housing and healthy living elude billions of people. Many factors have intensified and brought about the development of squatter, slum and informal settlement characterized by poor housing conditions.
The basic causes include the high demand for housing in the wake of rapid rural-urban migration, the slow growth of the housing stock coupled with the low income of the majority of the rural migrants and abject poverty. Thus for many African residents, the choice of where to live is almost pre-determined. They cannot afford the cheapest low cost housing; therefore, they live in unhealthy locations such as low-lying and marginal lands that lack basic infrastructural facilities and services such as clean water and sanitation. Poverty in the developing countries is the most important determinant of poor housing and poor health.
More than 1 billion people are living on less than one dollar a day and one of every six people worldwide, lack basic infrastructures especially improved water, sanitation and housing; they are all out of reach. While many initiative that tried to improve the health of people living in unhealthy conditions and in extreme poverty have failed. Poverty dominates the international development agenda of the 21st century.
Housing is perhaps the ultimate nexus between the built environment and health disparities, and it has been the focus of much recent research and intervention activity looking at new approaches to old problems. The intimate connection that exist between housing and health has been well known for more than a century—Florence Nightingale once wrote, “The connection between health and the dwelling of the population is one of the most important that exists.”
However, today there is renewed interest in discovering the complex pathways connecting housing factors, neighborhood factors, social factors, adverse health outcomes, and disproportionate disease burden in poor and ethnic minority communities—particularly with respect to skyrocketing rates of chronic diseases.
Read also: The dangers of living in slums