The Causes of Poverty in Africa

Poverty is a disease. It is certainly terrible. It is undesirable, yet it is very common in some parts of the world while it is nearly unknown in some other parts of the world. Africa is one of the continents of the world. In fact, the continent is the second largest continent in the world and is only surpassed by Asia which is the largest. The size of Africa is estimated at about 30.2 million kmĀ² (11.7 million sq mi) to include adjacent islands and it covers 6% of the Earth’s total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area.

The continent is mostly occupied by people referred to as Africans and the people are mostly black in complexion. This is however not to suggest that there are no people with other complexions. Some Africans are even white while there are other complexions in-between. The complexions in Africa are best described as beautiful and elegant mix as well as pot-pourri. Between 1982-2009, the population of the continent has doubled and the population is currently estimated at 1 billion. The continent is tropical and poverty is common.

Poverty, whether by relative definition or absolute one is prevalent on the continent as about 70 percent of Africans still live on less than $2 a day and par capita income is extremely low. Hence, unemployment in most African countries is in excess of 20% while diseases and wars have ravaged many. The capacity for self improvement of many has been compromised predisposing many to crime and premature deaths. Hence, illiteracy is high and governance is weak. Against weak development indicators and wide spread poverty, Africa as a continent is usually referred to as a developing/least developed continent.

On the continent, poverty is in fact deadlier than HIV/AIDS. Although the problem is curable, its prevalence and endemic nature on the continent suggests that it is nearly incurable. Most people on the continent are poor and trapped in the problem. Although they wanted to be out of the problem, it is impossible for them to. Systemic problems appear to have kept them perpetually there. Many battle the problem all their lives and their generations are also banished into it explaining the term Inter generational poverty trap.

The following are the causes of poverty in Africa:

Corruption and Poor leadership: Many government officials on the continent are corrupt and abuse their public offices. The governance environment is largely irresponsible. Resources meant for all the citizenry are cornered and embezzled by few just because they are privileged to be in government or corridors of power.
Lifestyles: The lifestyles of many Africans induce poverty. Many engage in ways of life that keep them forever in the problem. For instance, many celebrate normal events like naming ceremony in outlandish manners. Africans throw parties on nearly anything. They even borrow money to celebrate dead people in events called burial ceremonies. People without stable income borrow money with huge interests just to meet cultural expectations through needless celebrations. This is one of the major causes of the problem on the continent
Illiteracy: There is high level of illiteracy on the continent. Very many Africans do not have access to formal education. This affects their reasoning faculties and drastically reduces their capacity to generate income in the modern environment being driven competitively by knowledge in the knowledge industry
Resignation: So many people on the continent have resigned to faith and accepted their situation as normal and sometimes divine. Their thinking now reflect poverty and they have come to see themselves as poor and that there is nothing they could do. They thus live a life that accepts the problem and perceive it as normal.
Systemic dis-empowerment: Life on the continent favors the rich and poor people find it difficult to actualize themselves in the system. In many instances, employment and opportunities are hijacked by the rich and those from poor background find it difficult to move up the ladder of success and affluence. The environment thus perpetrates and perpetuates the problem on the continent.

Turning Our Backs On HIV/AIDS In Africa

When I was in high school, many years ago, I recall reading Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, The Masque of the Red Death. The story is an allegory, which means that the point of the story lays beneath and between the words Poe penned. Poe claimed to dislike allegories. But despite his professed aversion to them, in 1843 he wrote the ‘Masque’ and it became one of his better-known works. If you have never had the opportunity to read it, I highly recommend that you do. You can find the story on the Internet and read it for free.

The story tells the tale of Prince Prospero who ruled in some far off land. A plague came to his realm and struck with ferocity upon the people he ruled. The plague became known as the “Red Death” and in Poe’s own words:

” The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour…”

When about half of the people Prince Prospero ruled over succumbed to the illness, the prince hatched a plan to take one thousand healthy friends and take refuge in one of his castles. He barred entry and exit from the castle and intended to wait out in splendor, the disease that coursed through his land.

At the end of 2006, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 34 million and 47 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. During 2006, between 2.5 million and 3.5 million people died from AIDS. Over half of all the people who live with HIV/AIDS and die from AIDS live in Africa.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 5.9% of the adult population is infected with HIV/AIDS. In the same area, 2.1 million adults and children died of the disease in 2006. In North America, 0.8% of the population is infected, and 18,000 people died from AIDS in 2006.

Prince Prospero’s idea was simply to let the Red Death burn itself out. Once the disease had left, he and his guests could leave the castle and repopulate the land. This is the reason why the prince chose his guests principally from among the nobles and knights of his realm. To be fair, he also brought in some entertainers and artists, knowing that he and his guests would have to be entertained during their seclusion.

In 2001, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria was started. Since then, $3.3 billion has been obtained from nations throughout the world to help fight disease in Africa. In addition to this, the U.S. Government has contributed an additional $1.1 billion under the President’s Plan for AIDS relief.

According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2005, the U.S. Government distributed nearly $3 billion for HIV/AIDS assistance to the 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This single-year assistance is nearly equal to all of the assistance given by all nations over the past 5 years to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa.

After being locked up in the castle for six months, Prince Prospero’s guests were experiencing a little “cabin fever”. So the prince decided to throw a big costumed ball in his apartments within the castle. The prince had seven apartments – a not insignificant number. Each apartment was decorated in differing styles with different colors. One apartment, however, was black and blood red. Most of the guests didn’t go into this apartment because it seemed so dark and foreboding.

Because HIV/AIDS suppresses the human immune system, diseases that were normally suppressed within the human population have returned. Tuberculosis (TB) is one of those diseases. Contrary to what most people believe, TB was never actually cured. Through a regime of drugs, man found a way to suppress the disease. But for the most part, the disease is suppressed by one’s own immune system. Today, it is believed that as many as one-third of the human population on Earth carries a TB strain within their bodies. But so long as their immune system is unimpaired, these estimated 2 billion people may anticipate living their entire lives without ever experiencing a single symptom of TB.

The ball the prince holds is a delight to everyone in the castle. People are enjoying themselves and seem to be completely oblivious to the horrors taking place outside the castle walls. But then, all of a sudden, there appears one person who is costumed as a victim of the Red Death. The crowd shrieks in horror and moves away in fear and loathing from this person. The Prince flies into a rage at seeing one of his apparent guests mocking and terrorizing both he and everyone else at the ball. He demands that the perpetrator be apprehended and hanged from the castle wall for his effrontery.

Because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, and the lack of drugs and money to combat the disease, TB has not only returned to plague the people of Africa, it has also mutated into new strains. Multi-Drug Resistant TB (MDR-TB) is a strain that is extremely difficult to control and requires the use of many anti-retroviral drugs to combat. WHO has issued repeated warnings that, left unchecked, this new strain of TB can become a global pandemic. Because TB is spread by air, there is no way to protect oneself from contracting the disease. If you are around someone with active TB, then you are probably going to contract the disease.

Now, a new strain of TB has been discovered and identified as Extremely Drug Resistant TB (XDR-TB). Some scientists believe XDR-TB is untreatable. In studies conducted by WHO and the U.S. Center for Disease Control, in Russia and Asia, 53 patients suffering from XDR-TB were treated with anti-retroviral drugs. Despite this treatment, 52 of the patients died within just 25 days of contracting the illness.

The prince and his knights pursue the offending guest through the apartments until they corner him in the black and blood red, seventh apartment. There, to their shock and horror, they discover that the perpetrator was not wearing a costume, but in fact, is infected with the Red Death plague. Within a short time, the prince and all who had gathered within the castle walls perished from the disease.

According to WHO, today approximately 4% of all known XDR-TB cases are found in patients residing in the United States. WHO and other agencies warn that the failure of developed nations to seriously confront and combat this growing epidemic and the HIV/AIDS epidemic that has spawned XDR-TB, will result in a severe mortality impact worldwide.

An Overview Of Health Insurance in South Africa

The Insurance industry in South Africa is an ever-increasing industry, with new insurance companies appearing all the time, even other business have now jumped on the band wagon to offer insurance such as major food chains. Amongst all the different types of insurances that one finds here, such as car, household, life, travel and a myriad of others, I want to particularly speak about health insurance in South Africa and what the current state and trends are at this moment.

A larger percentage of the South African population is underprivileged or are in the lower income bracket with a leaser percentage of the population in the middle to higher income brackets. As a result many people have to rely on the public health care system, which is over-used and under-financed. Because of a lack of funding and inadequate services many middle to higher income earners have to take out private health insurance from private companies. The private health care system is ever increasing as more and more people come to rely on it, a total of 18 percent of the population rely on medical aid schemes.

South Africa has had major challenges in the health care sector over the past decade with sharply rising medical costs. As a result insurance providers had to get crafty by creating insurance schemes that could be afforded by the general public. Medical aid schemes have been on the increase too with major health insurer being Discovery Health with 1.5 million members. As I mentioned before there are many insurers offering medical insurance and medical aid schemes in South Africa and it is important to shop around and look for one that suits your needs. It is also very important that you read ALL the fine print, as many health insurance providers will do anything to not have to settle a claim, this goes for insurance providers in South Africa and the rest of the world.

South Africa is also seeing an increase in interest from foreign insurance companies, offering normal cover for all and also some special policies for expatriates. These special policies can include transporting the deceased via aeroplane back to their home country. The cost of international insurance cover can vary quite a lot depending on the type of cover and the age of the insured.

The future of the health care system in South Africa is uncertain. Government has proposed a new National Health Insurance (NHI), which will provide free medical care for all, although some sceptics say that Government’s ambitious health care plans are likely to fail. Government hopes to implement the plan in 2012, starting with the rural areas, and then gradually roll over to the rest of the country over 14 years. A sceptic says that for a NSI to work you would need at least 10 million tax payers and that South Africa only has about 5 million. South Africa with a population of 49.9 million in international terms has the smallest tax payer base.

South Africa seems to still have a long way to go before the health insurance industry and health industry on a whole is balanced to benefit all who need health care. If the sceptics are right then it seems that the private health insurance sector will still be growing in the near future.

Did you know an eye exam could save your life? A trained optometrist can detect if you may have a serious condition related to your eyes. We don’t often think about our health when going for an exam, we just want our new prescription eyewear. A good Eye exam can uncover normally hidden conditions that may have gone undetected for years. Why? A lot of exams are done by an optician. Opticians do not have the training needed to uncover the problem. Be sure to use an experienced optician for your next visit.

Poverty Trap in Africa

According to Sachs, Africa is characterized by growth in population, lack of growth in food production, fragmentation of land, and lack of basic infrastructure pushing it in the poverty trap. They have a high child mortality rate due to poor health programs. In contrast, the British colonial existence in India at least endowed her with a sound railway network penetrating to her villages. No similar infrastructure is found in Africa.

However, the economic burdens in Africa can be easily overcome. According to Sachs, the barriers to economic development evident in Africa can be overcome at a low cost, but finance is difficult for the African nations living on subsistence. “The escape from extreme poverty” argues Sachs, “requires four basic types of investment”. The proposed investments are required in (i) Agriculture (ii) Health (iii) Education, and (iv) Infrastructure, to attain sustained growth. A temporary aid over several years if utilized optimally can lead to permanent rise in productivity.

The initial external investment can be used for boosting agricultural productivity, and a parallel can be seen in the green revolution in India in the latter half of 1960s. With the initial investment in agriculture, the external aid can be further utilized for boosting growth in education, health, and infrastructure thereby triggering a process of self-sustained growth (Sachs 231). In agriculture, the experience shows that with little cost of inputs in terms of fertilizer and high yielding varieties of seeds, the return is spectacular. The yield per hectare can grow from as little as 0.5 ton per hectare to as high as 1 to 5 tons per hectare with as little investment as $200 but small farmers lack even that little finance. The same goes for health. A little investment can go a long way in controlling most of the diseases that commonly originate from infectious diseases, nutritional deficiencies, and unsafe childbirth. The nations like Zanzibar and Tanzania have already shown dramatic results from the help that arrived in the form of mass bed net, anti-mosquito spray from the Global Fund, and the United States.

Similarly a little investment in education and literacy will open doors to mass employment in agriculture, exports, agricultural processing and industry simultaneously with interventions in infrastructural upgradation and build up.

Regional development strategy is seen as going a long way in generating economic prosperity, employment and sound infrastructure in underdeveloped regions. Sachs offers two examples of successful regional development – Tennessee Value Authority (TVA) created under the New Deal package covering seven states in the southeastern United States, and world’s largest regional development project in the Western China Development Project. Out-migration from regionally underdeveloped to the developed regions is yet another strategy of development. However, migration of unskilled laborers from poor nations to rich nations is a deeply contentious issue. Also migration and sending remittances by the migrants are only part solutions to the development.

The UN sponsored Millennium Development Project and the Millennium Village Projects are quick impact investments aimed at uplifting depressed regions and villages. The goal here is to empower communities to achieve sustained long term growth through key investments in agriculture, health, education, and infrastructure. The initial results have been positive for agriculture productivity in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Malawi. The progress was also seen in health and education.

Sachs demystifies the concept that nations like Israel, India, Taiwan, and Korea developed on the strength of their internal resources as he goes on to show the sources of their external funding and time when these nations received financial aid that helped them take off before external aid became redundant. The railway infrastructure in India was bequeathed to her by the British rule. The green revolution in India was externally aided. It is also a myth that aid-propelled growth is unsustainable and that aid can sustain only on a small scale.