UNFPAState of World Population 2002
Back to Main Menu
State of World Population Report (HTML)
Journalists' Press Kit
PDF Version of Report
Ordering Information
Previous Years' Reports


(Not for release before 3 December 2002)

Multiple Dimensions of Poverty
Macroeconomics, Poverty, Population and Development
Poverty and Gender
Poor Health and Poverty
HIV/AIDS and Poverty
Poverty and Education
Population, Poverty and Global Development Goals: The Way Ahead

Poor Health and Poverty

Poor health is both a cause and consequence of poverty. In the least developed countries, life expectancy is just 49 years and one in 10 children do not reach their first birthday.

Poor people in a 41-country survey cited illness most frequently as the cause of their slide into poverty.

For women in developing countries, poor reproductive health is responsible for one fifth of the burden of disease and 40 per cent for women in sub-Saharan Africa.

Reproductive health has some of the largest gaps between rich and poor. This translates into less opportunity for poor women and families to break out of poverty.

Poor women face a risk of dying during pregnancy and birth that is up to 600 times higher than for women in developed nations. One woman dies every minute, over half a million women a year.

A woman’s lifetime risk of dying due to maternal causes is one in 19 in Africa, one in 132 in Asia, one in 188 in Latin America, compared to one in 2,976 in developed countries. Skilled birth attendants could reduce these risks.

Yet, in South Asia, the poor are only one tenth as likely as the rich to use them; in the Middle East and North Africa, they are less than one sixth as likely.

The poorest women start their childbearing youngest. In many developing countries, women marry and start bearing children between the ages of 15 and 19. In Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in East Asia and the Pacific, the young in poor households have children at more than five times the rate of the young rich.

In communities where family planning has not been fully accepted and opportunities are limited, people view births and family size as unchangeable conditions, within which they make other choices.

Investment in basic health services in developing countries is only a fraction of what is needed. Low-income countries are spending only $21 per capita per year on health care, much of it for expensive curative services rather than basic prevention and care. The World Health Organization (WHO)/World Bank Commission on Macro-economics and Health estimated that an additional $30 billion per year is needed. Reproductive health must be a priority.

Regardless of income, countries can design their health systems to improve access to services for the poor. Viet Nam has reduced the differences between the richest and poorest on most health measures, including those related to reproductive health, to less than 2 to 1.

Better health, including reproductive health, and education contribute to economic growth. Better education helps women to protect their own and their children’s health and widens economic choices. Higher incomes improve living environments, reduce malnutrition and provide a buffer against the costs of poor health.

 Back to top PreviousNext