Adam’s post today about the $4.3 billion pledged to vaccinate children around the world is an example of what I find most striking about healthcare in developing countries: a huge portion of the most pressing issues are problems we’ve already solved.
Take a look at this chart from the BBC article Adam linked to. The two biggest killers of children are at least partly preventable with existing vaccines. If you throw in basic sanitation and ORT, there’s really no reason for any child to die of diarrhea – yet millions do, every single year.
These problems are solved in the sense that medical technology can prevent or treat them with incredibly high success. The same goes for malaria: bednets are an extremely effective form of prevention, yet 32% of people in Africa say they did not use one for their child the previous night – out of people who own one. HIV presents a similar problem. It causes one in three deaths in Malawi, and not only can it be prevented almost surely with condoms, but nearly everyone here is aware of that fact. Yet condom utilization is low and the annual incidence of the virus (the number of people who contract it each year) is over 1 in 100.
A major reason why I (and other social scientists) are involved in health research in poor countries is to understand why people are failing to use highly-effective prevention and treatment technologies. We’re trying to find solutions to a wide range of problems that, in principle, should already be solved.