Health and healthcare in developing countries: closing the gap.
I'll talk about the challenges and solutions
for primary healthcare in low resource settings.
I'm Kenneth Leonard, a Professor of
Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Maryland.
One of the most effective and efficient ways to improve
health often has little or nothing to do with health care.
There are many examples in developing countries, including improving toilets,
cleaning drinking water, using insecticide treated bed nets,
using chlorine tablets to clean water,
smoking cessation, using oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhea,
using exclusive breastfeeding for children,
and even efficient cook stoves which can reduce
the amount of smoke that people inhale and can improve their health.
Before we move forward talking about the reasons why people
do and do not adopt technologies to improve their health,
it's useful to think first about what our own situations are.
Note that sanitation, drinking water,
and mosquito control are health inventions that are undertaken by large public entities,
usually governments in developed countries.
We have these things because someone else does it for us,
not because we have deliberately changed our behavior.
Often, our first reaction that people have is that of course,
people should be using things like better toilets and cleaner drinking water,
and of course, we would use them if we needed it to.
But it's important to remember that a lot of the reasons that we have
health and healthy environments is because of the actions of other people.
When I teach this subject to undergraduates,
I ask them to study the doors in
the main campus library the next time they visit the library.
In this multistory building,
every door is designed to help them find the exit to the building automatically.
There are emergency exit maps posted all over the buildings,
but students will acknowledge that they have never looked at them.
Instead, every door pushes away from them as they move
toward the exit and pushes towards them if they're going in the wrong direction.
Even in a stairwell,
only one door opens outward,
the one that's at the ground exit level.
All other doors open towards them.
Architects know that people will flow towards doors they push open,
and will therefore automatically flow out of the building.
The architect has assumed that students will not take
the precaution to understand how to protect themselves and has done that for them.
So as we consider the choices that people
make about their own health in developing countries,
it's worthwhile to pause and think about the choices that
we make about our own health in our own contexts.
Are we doing what we should be to maintain our weight,
to keep a balanced diet,
and to avoid dangerous habits like smoking or texting while driving?
Most of us are not, and that's
a similar situation for poor people in developing countries.