The good news: Between 1970 and 2010, the life expectancy of people in developing countries rose from 40 to 70.1 years (life expectancy of children born in Germany in 2012: 80.6 years). The number of deaths among children under five years of age worldwide fell from 89 to 51 per 1,000 live births between 1990 and 2011 (in Germany: 4 per 1,000).
The bad news: despite this progress, many people in developing countries still have to live with diseases such as tuberculosis or malaria. Around 36.9 million people worldwide were infected with the HIV virus in 2014, about 25.8 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Infections caused by parasites, such as the worm diseases schistosomiasis and river blindness (onchocercosis), are also very common in children and adults and are increasing again in some cases.
Situation of the children
Children’s health is particularly at risk. Every year, almost seven million children under the age of five die in developing countries. Millions more children suffer from physical and mental disabilities as a result of illness. Almost a third of deaths are caused by respiratory infections and diarrhoea.
Situation of girls and women
The health of women and girls is influenced by their position in family and society. Gender discrimination can have a negative impact on health behaviour, the risk of infection (such as HIV infection) and access to health services, information and education.
The health of millions of women is burdened by poor nutrition and frequent pregnancies, hard work, the predominantly burdening responsibility for children and family as well as a lack of opportunities to determine one’s own life.
In developing countries, women die every day as a result of pregnancy or childbirth because they do not receive adequate medical care. In addition, several million pregnancies are terminated every year, many of them in developing countries. Each of these abortions is associated with physical and mental suffering.
According to World Health Organization estimates, up to five million women in developing countries suffer serious complications each year from improper abortions; nine percent of deaths as a result of pregnancy are therefore due to improper abortions.
Causes of disease in developing countries
One of the most common causes of disease is poverty. It is considered to be jointly responsible for a large proportion of all deaths.
Poverty prevents the sick from receiving medical care. It often leads to hunger or poor nutrition. And even those who cannot afford clean drinking water and toilets are more often ill and recover more slowly. Factors such as unemployment, lack of education and lack of family planning opportunities can also have a negative impact on health.
Many poor also suffer social uprooting. Possible consequences such as prostitution, violence, crime and drug use are associated with a very high health risk. Other risk factors for health are armed conflicts and natural disasters. Poor people are also particularly vulnerable to them.
Deficient health systems
Many people in developing countries do not have access to professional health care. They lack the money for treatment and nursing care or medically assisted births. Millions of people are impoverished because the costs of medically necessary services are ruining them. Nor can the poor afford effective measures to prevent disease.
In many countries there is no universal basic provision for all strata of the population. Health facilities are often unevenly distributed regionally. Important medical services, whether public or private, are mainly available in the cities – and often only benefit the wealthy classes.
In addition to the poor, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, women and children are particularly disadvantaged. Without social security systems, families run a high risk of falling into poverty due to illness.
Even if there is the political will to restructure, most developing countries lack both the financial resources and the skills to build a functioning and comprehensive health system. There are also bottlenecks in the transport infrastructure.