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Fighting Disease:
Health At The End Of The Millennium
Another Wired Curriculum from The United Nations CyberSchoolBus

1 Introduction
2 How They Work
3 How They Spread
4 Poverty and Disease
5 Prevention
6 Immunization

Unit 4
Poverty: Breeding ground for disease

(GRADES 5-7)

The number of people living on the earth is constantly growing and with this growth comes an increase in the number of people living in poverty. Poverty makes hundreds of millions of people vulnerable to infectious diseases. Half the world's population, for example, can not get the drugs they need most.

Many of these people live in cities, which are often overcrowded. While for those who are better off the city has been a healthier place to live, for the poor the city can be very unhealthy. People end up living in unhygienic conditions, without clean water and proper sanitation in overcrowded neighborhoods where microbes quickly move on from one host to the next.

Today, half the world's population - three billion people - still suffers from diseases and injuries that can easily be prevented or treated. In other words, sometimes social conditions allow infectious diseases to take an unnecessarily heavy toll on human life.

Clean Water and Sanitation

As Unit 3 explained, infections can spread through contaminated food and water. Food and water are easily contaminated in unhygienic conditions - such as when hands are not washed, water is not purified or human and other waste is not properly disposed of.
*1.1 billion people lack safe drinking water
*2.9 billion people have no safe sanitation facilities


Millions have no place to live and over a billion are forced to live in overcrowded conditions. They cannot afford to live in neighborhoods where clean water, sewage systems, and garbage collection is provided.
*Inadequate housing increases respiratory infections such as pneumonia and tuberculosis
*Adequate housing can help prevent vector-borne (mosquito) diseases such as yellow fever


Poverty often leads to meager and unhealthy diets. Children growing up in these conditions are at risk of malnutrition. This means their diet does not provide their body with the protein, vitamins and minerals it needs to keep strong. So malnutrition increases the risk of illness.
*Every year, over 6 million infants (under five years old) meet an early death due to malnutrition
*Diets low in vitamin A contribute to the complications of such infectious diseases as rubella and AIDS
*Breast-feeding helps prevent malnutrition in the newborn, stimulates the baby's immune system, and provides some immunity from its mother
*Education about good nutrition is an effective way to combat malnutrition

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