BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Archive for August, 2017

Housing is a socio-economic factor that significantly impacts health and well-being. Therefore, houses and housing plans must accommodate the health and well-being of individuals and communities to support and build resilience. Healthy housing is a human right because the lack of it would result in poor health, higher mortality rates and increased risk of chronic diseases. Substandard or deficient housing is a major health risk and is usually common to low-income households. Some conditions associated with poor housing include the use of lead-based paints, build up of radon gas and the presence of mould, mites, and allergens. Approximately 40% of childhood asthma is attributed to indoor exposures to substances in low-quality housing. About 2,000 Canadians die yearly from lung cancer associated with Radon, a colorless, odorless gas that often builds up in some poorly maintained houses. Problems related to poor housing such as potential for fire hazards, poor ventilation and other unsafe conditions that do not meet building standards, can result in critical injuries or even death.

The scientific evidence on the association between housing and health has increased considerably in recent years. These evidence can be used to direct primary prevention measures such as housing construction, renovation, use and maintenance, to promote better overall health. Healthy and efficient housing is promoted for many reasons; to conserve energy in this era of climate change, address the housing needs of urbanization and to prevent or eradicate homelessness. There is an apparent need for governments and other organizations to promote health by investing in healthy housing. The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasized the importance of developing an international guidance on healthy housing after the consultation of 40 experts from 18 different countries, a conference hosted in Geneva from 13th  to 15th October, 2010. This international guidance is intended to support the prevention of a wide range of diseases and unintentional injuries through healthy housing.

The cost of private, for-profit housing makes it impossible to meet the housing needs of low-income households. Consequently, governments must intervene and provide subsidies to accommodate people who cannot afford the healthy houses they need. National governments have a responsibility to provide citizens with the building blocks of health, including safe, healthy and affordable housing. Unfortunately, many levels of government have remained reluctant to investing in healthy housing for low-income people. Ironically,  it is economically better to invest in healthy housing because the social and health costs of poor housing and poverty consistently outweigh the costs of investing in subsidized social housing.

Ways in which the government, and housing agencies, can accommodate health and well being into housing plans include:

  • Encourage healthy housing designs, construction and maintenance across the housing continuum
  • Work with housing agencies to create plans that meet the specific needs of people
  • Promote superior indoor air quality through properly ventilated houses
  • Provide safe water and lighting
  • Conserve resources, especially water and energy -including the consumption of electricity and other fuels, and encourage the use of renewable energy
  • Ensure houses are environmentally responsible through the use of alternative water and wastewater systems, site planning that reduces land requirements, resource-efficient landscaping and a consideration for broader community planning issues such as transportation.
  • Invest in affordable housing

Youth and young adulthood are stages of development where risk factors for violence are most evident and pronounced. Consequently, more people at this stage die from acts of violence compared to all diseases combined (Irwin, Berg & Cart, 2002). On a daily basis, young people across the world are exposed to violence in their homes, schools, and communities. These exposures to violence cause significant physical, mental, and emotional damage in addition to long-term behaviour disorders that can last well into old age.

Youth violence is a global health problem. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 200,000 homicides yearly among youth and young adults aged 10-29 years, making homicide the fourth leading cause of death in this age group. About 83% of these perpetuators and victims are male, and most of these deaths occur in low and middle-income communities across countries. In the United States, homicides among individuals aged 15 to 24 were one of the top three leading causes of death in 2015. A study in Ontario Canada showed that 10% of students reported having carried weapons (such as guns or knives) while 6% reported having participated in gang fights (Adlaf, Pagua-Boak, Beitchman & Wolfe, 2005). Of the individuals that reported carrying weapons, 79% had experienced a physical assault in the last year (Wortley & Tanner, 2006). Therefore, it remains unclear why these young people carry weapons; whether to offend (commit crimes) or to defend themselves against criminals.

The term youth violence cuts across a wide range of behaviours and actions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), youth violence can be described as the harmful or destructive behaviours carried out by youth beginning from early ages of life,  and may continue into young adulthood. Some implicated behaviours and actions that constitute violence among youths include bullying, slapping, pushing, shoving, hitting, fist-fighting and killing. Some kinds of violence, such as bullying, can cause more emotional harms than physical harms while others, such as robbery and assault (with and without weapons) can lead to serious injury and even death. Exposing young people to violence can also  hinder development, cause traumas and create long lasting scars. These youth are usually underserved, and the social assistance and welfare systems responsible for their upkeep are often  fragmented, indifferent, inefficient and ineffective.

The best way to tackle youth violence is through prevention; stopping it before it starts. Several prevention strategies have been identified and proper application can help stop or prevent the cycle of violence. Schools and communities can help reduce youth violence by developing interventions  that combine prevention and treatment strategies. Center for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) has the following recommendations:

  • Support marginalized communities by building capacity for healthy and supportive environments.
  • Engage and include communities most involved in youth violence, in identifying solutions
  • Create strong community and school-based programs and service
  • Provide parenting resources for families to improve parent-child relationship as well as to address mental health concerns linked to youth violence
  • Develop tools and targeted interventions that support individuals, families and communities along the continuum of prevention, intervention and treatment

Internally displaced people (IDP) are people who are on the run within their countries, but unlike refugees, have not crossed international borders to find safety. IDP are the most vulnerable group of people in the world because they’re stuck in countries where their safety is uncertain, and remain under the care and protection of the government, even if that government caused their displacement. Internal displacement often results when people run around due to fear of persecution for their ethnicity or race, religion, membership of a particular social group and political opinion. It is also caused by natural disasters or made-made events, for example, earthquake, famine, drought, conflicts, disorder, wild fires, development projects and war.

There are millions of internally displaced people around the world. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) of the Norwegian Refugee Council in Geneva, at the end of 2014, about 38 million people worldwide were reportedly displaced internally due to violence.  Of this number, 11 million were newly displaced in the same year – making 2014 a year with the highest record of human displacement, totalling about 30,000 people a day. Iraq suffered the most new displacement, with at least 2.2 million people displaced. Ukraine was also affected by a war which caused the internal displacement of more than 640,000 people.  The IDMC’s 2015 Global Overview further showed that the disproportionate increase in the rate of displacement was as a result of  the prolonged crises in countries such as Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan and Syria. These five countries alone accounted for over 50% of all new displaced individuals worldwide. So far, Syria has the highest number of displaced people in the world- 40% of the population, approximately 8 million people.

Displaced persons are vulnerable and susceptible to infections; they therefore need help and support in many areas of their lives, especially health. They suffer significantly higher rates of morbidity and mortality, and have higher risks of experiencing harsh, unfair, violent and abusive conditions such as physical attack, sexual abuse, kidnap, hunger and deprivation of basic needs including shelter and health care. It is also very challenging for them to access services related to health, education and other areas due to the lack of finances, housing, security, safe and clean water, basic sanitation and stability. The following health problems have been identified among IDPs in Africa: post-traumatic stress disorders, malnutrition, fever, malaria and acute respiratory infections.

A way to reduce internal displacement is to tackle it’s root causes such as wars, discrimination and insurgency through a combination of diplomacy and democracy, good governance, other political measures. Additionally, a well coordinated and pecuniary emergency preparedness plan, including active surveillance, should be in existence in case disasters occur. Most of the internally displaced people are women and children, who they have an even higher risk of being sexually abused. Due to the high vulnerability of IDP, many international organizations such as World Health Organization (WHO) and The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) use their expertise to protect and assist them.

Social injustice may be defined as inequities or unfair actions and practices in the society, usually by the dominant populace against the minority groups. It has been described as the unequal distribution of advantages and disadvantages in all areas of life in a society. Like every kind of inequity, social injustice is a threat to health and wellbeing, and can affect all aspects of life including education, housing, employment, income, access to health services, transportation and government benefits and services. The major example of social injustice is discrimination, which can also be considered the root cause of all other social injustices. Other manifestations of social injustice include unequal distribution of wage relative to labor, oppression, religious violence, racism, patriotism, casteism, capitalism, classism, ableism, sexism, ageism, and homophobia.

As stated earlier, most forms of social injustice are rooted in discrimination. Discrimination is the biased and unequal treatment of persons or groups of persons for reasons based on illegal stereotypes and prejudices such as age, race, gender, sex, race and other factors. It is considered an illegal act by the federal and state laws of the United States, and many other countries. Discrimination is evident in many areas in the society including employment and right to promotion, availability of housing, opportunities for education and scholarships, civil rights and use of facilities. Surveys conducted by researchers at Brown University found that in the US, minority groups at every income level live in poorer neighborhoods than white people with comparable incomes. In addition, another study in Arizona showed that between 2006 and 2007, highway patrol was more likely to stop drivers who were African Americans, Native Americans, Middle Easterners and Hispanics compared to Caucasian in all the studied highways. These are not co-incidences but socially and structurally constructed limitations that beset minority groups.

Discrimination is a mindset mostly caused by thoughts, theories and principles that are promoted by cultural beliefs and prejudices or stereotypes. One way to reduce discrimination is through government intervention via laws and regulation that prohibit it, and punish offenders. A second way to reduce discrimination is to promote and encourage diversity in societies. Diversity is necessary because it helps to create a color-blind society rather and having a color-conscious society where social injustice thrives. Cultural diversity is important and can be promoted workplaces and schools by hiring and admitting people from various cultural, racial, and ethnic groups. A culturally diverse society enables people to learn and understand other cultures and perspectives by living and communicating with them daily, and in turn dispelling and nullifying societal stereotypes and personal biases.