Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Risk Factors for Disease in Developing and Developed Countries

Though this is one of my core ideas, I never put it down on paper until my younger brother prodded me to write it.

I write here, the risk factors for disease in developing as well as developed countries. This knowledge will help you in preventing your own diseases and to prevent the diseases of our poor brethren - if you are so inclined.

Risk Factors for Disease in Developing Countries:


Close to 25 % of disease is due to Undernutrition
(Underweight 15%; Zinc, Iron, Vitamin A - each about 3 %)

About 11% of disease are due to unsafe sex, and lack of contraception in females.

11% of disease is due to unsafe environment. Unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene (6 %), Indoor smoke from solid fuels (4 %) , and Lead exposure (1 %).

8 % of deaths are due to other dietary (I would say mostly overnutrition) and physical inactivity. Blood Pressure (3 %); Cholesterol (2 %); Overweight, Low fruit and vegetable intake, and Physical inactivity (1 % each).

4 % of deaths are due to addictions. Alcohol (1.5 %), Tobacco (2 %), Drugs (0.5 %).

1.5 % of deaths is due to Occupational Injuries, and 1 % due to Unsafe Health Care Injections.

We find that more than 60 % of deaths/disease can be prevented by removing these risk factors.

The above figures are for the total populations of third-world countries, rich and poor included. Therefore, it is common sense to assume that deaths due to malnutrition, unsafe sex, and unsafe environment will be higher in poor people than what the above numbers indicate. How much higher they are, depends on the rich-poor mix and the prevalence of risk factors among the rich and poor.

If one goes into further causal analysis, one finds that the great majority of the poor people's diseases can be prevented by making them literate, and giving them health education. Of course, undernutrition can be prevented mostly by higher incomes that come with creating more employment opportunities. This in turn will require making them skilled labor in contrast to unskilled, and also a lot of other factors that promote enterpreneurship.

Risk Factors for Disease in Developed Countries:

Well, if you are reading this, you most likely fall into the other category of people whose risk factors are different. 2 % of your disease are due to environmental factors, 1 % are due to undernutrition, unsafe sex, and occupational injuries each. 33 % are due to Overnutrition and Physical Inactivity, and 22 % to Substance Addictions (tobacco 12 %, alcohol 9 %, illicit drugs, 2 %). It is not wise to think that these numbers are similar to those of the poor - and if I am not going to die of infectious disease, I'm going to die of other diseases. These numbers (see p 87) are only percentages, and the actual disease level is three times higher in the poor.

The World Health Reports

Take care of your diseases first, and if you have the compassion and power in you, help prevent those diseases in the poor.

'I don't want a kingdom, I don't want salvation,
I want relief from suffering of the diseased'

- Translated from a Sanskrit poem

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