Over the last 100 years, the world has become a healthier place to live. Advances in medical science, improved diet, higher living standards, and better health education have all helped people live longer and healthier lives. However, many problems remain, especially in the less fortunate countries within Africa and Asia. While immunization has protected millions of children against disease, many illnesses remain common. Tuberculosis and malaria are widespread, AIDS is decimating the population in parts of Africa, and thousands of babies die each year of tetanus. In the world’s richer continents, which include North America, Oceania, and Europe, cancer and heart disease plague many people.
There are many ways of safeguarding against illness. Immunization protects people from catching diseases such as measles and tetanus. In rich countries most children are immunized, but in some poor countries only 30 per cent of children receive this care. Across the world, people are warned of the dangers of smoking, alcohol, and drugs. Governments also try to promote the idea of regular exercise to keep the population fit and healthy. Attention to water quality, food hygiene, sanitation, and good housing all play their part in keeping people well. In the countries that can afford it, campaigns in the media, schools, and clinics help to educate people in basic health care and issues such as hygiene.
One way of measuring the provision of healthcare in a country is to count the number of people cared for by each doctor. Countries that are rich or have good welfare systems provide easy access to health services, and on average have one doctor for every 390 people. In contrast, there is only one doctor to every 50,000 people in the world’s poorer countries, and over half the population lives more than 10 km (6 miles) from a doctor or medical centre.
War has a devastating effect upon every country, but apart from the carnage and destruction it causes, the humanitarian crisis can be enormous. People fleeing from areas of conflict to live in refugee camps often have little food and fresh water and serious diseases spread quickly. Organizations such as the Red Cross try to minimise suffering by providing food and medical supplies at the camps.
Life expectancy is a measure of how long a person is likely to live. In 1950, the average person expected to live 40 years, but now most live to at least 63. This hides the differences between rich and poor countries, and the social groups within them. Wealthier people are generally healthier than the poor, and rich countries, like Andorra, with the world’s highest life expectancy, are usually healthier places to live.
The child mortality rate is the number of deaths of children under five years of age per 1,000 births. In some areas of the world, such as Afghanistan and parts of Africa, poor medical care and lack of nourishment lead to a high number of child deaths. The story is much better in Europe and North America, where less than 10 out of every 1,000 children under five die.
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People are known to live longer if they eat a healthy diet that is low in saturated fats and includes fresh fruit and vegetables. The diet eaten by people who live in Mediterranean countries, such as Italy and Spain, contains a variety of healthy food, such as fish, leafy vegetables, olive oil, and pulses. Regular exercise is also important for a healthy life.
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