Health As Wealth

I leave for Kenya in a few days to meet with Lydia and the artisans. We are also trying to expand our product line by adopting new community groups who are making beautiful products. At times like these, I’m left thinking about my first travels to East Africa, especially because my mom is coming with me on this trip.

She just went through the process of getting her inoculations from a Yellow Fever shot to Typhoid capsules to malaria pills. The process is a bit overwhelming, especially as a travel doctor walks you through the various ways you could potentially get sick. It seems like there are so many ways to become ill in Kenya from unclean water to malaria and other serious diseases. We’re so fortunate that we’re in a position to be able to minimize risk as much as possible through vaccines, pills and purchasing clean food and water.

So many illnesses can be prevented with access to medicines, bed nets, clean water, etc. and yet so many people die due to lack of access to proper medical treatment. Take malaria for example, which exists in nearly 100 countries. According to the 2013 World Malaria Report, in 2012 alone there were 200 million cases of malaria. Of the 627,000 people who died from malaria worldwide that year, 90% occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria kills an estimated 2,000 children in sub-Saharan Africa every day. The Gates Foundation has committed over a quarter of a billion dollars to malaria research and development. And yet despite that investment, the need far outweighs the access to funding for programs to eradicate this disease.

Malaria is often perceived as a consequence of poverty – being unable to afford preventative tools and medicines. But malaria is also a cause of poverty. There are huge economic ramifications to a person being ill and unable to work for an extended period of time – he or she loses out on important income, which is needed to support a family. This can lead to a child being unable to attend school in order to support the family by completing household chores and an increased reliance on child labor for income for families that live hand to mouth.

A person’s health is everything, especially without access to insurance, savings or disposable income. And malaria is just one illness that contributes to poverty. In Kenya alone, there are dozens of other illnesses that threaten family stability. And lack of access to finances and information to prevent and/or cure these diseases for many. Illness is just one contributor to the cycle of poverty.

So while we are excited and busy preparing for this trip, we also are taking time to acknowledge how different our experiences in Kenya will be compared to the average Kenyan.