Wealth Makes Health

By Glassman, James | The American Enterprise, March 2004 | Go to article overview

Wealth Makes Health


Glassman, James, The American Enterprise


Early last December, I traveled to Kenya and Uganda with a delegation of health experts to look at efforts to fight AIDS in Africa. What I saw was both depressing and inspirational: overwhelming numbers of the dying and orphaned, but impressive attempts to save them by drug companies, faith-based charities, and U.S. government agencies.

When I returned home, however, I realized that I had missed a big part of the story.

President George W. Bush has committed $15 billion over the next five years to combat HIV and AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean, and well-meaning people are searching, through trial and error, to find the best programs to get the job done. But even if AIDS were eradicated tomorrow, Africa would still suffer terribly from disease, environmental degradation, and natural disasters.

Why do nearly half of all Africans contract malaria every year and 2 million get tuberculosis--diseases practically non-existent in the developed world? It's not the climate. Malaria and TB were horrors in the United States a few decades ago. Why these disparities?

In a word, poverty. And poverty, as we learned in the twentieth century, does not stem from a lack of natural resources (look at Singapore) or a surfeit of bad weather (look at Minnesota). No, poverty grows from bad political and economic systems, and Africa has those in abundance.

And not just Africa. On December 22, 2003, an earthquake registering 6.5 on the Richter scale struck near San Luis Obispo, between Los Angeles and San Francisco. While there was extensive damage to property, only three people were killed.

Four days later, an earthquake of similar magnitude, 6.6 on the scale, hit near the historic city of Bam in Iran. The deaths are still being counted, and about 30,000 have already been confirmed.

Again, the disparity was no accident. Two larger, more urban quakes in California--Loma Prieta in 1989, which devastated parts of San Francisco (6.9 magnitude), and Northridge in 1994, which caused about $30 billion in damage to suburbs northwest of Los Angeles (6.7 magnitude)--killed a total of 120 people. Meanwhile, an earthquake in a far more remote region of Iran in 1997, registering just 5. …

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