Just Sociology

Health as an Indicator of Development: Addressing Disparities Globally

The global community, in recent times, is gearing up to improve the quality of life, education, healthcare, transportation, and infrastructure for all nations. This is why the United Nations has identified 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to transform our shared planet.

Among these goals, SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being) focuses primarily on improving health indicators in all nations. Therefore, it is essential to understand how health can be used as an indicator of development for all countries.

In this article, we will delve into the importance of health in development and aid spending, four basic measurements of health in development, health indicators worse in lower-income countries, life expectancy comparisons between high and low-income countries, and the impact of COVID-19 on life expectancy.

Importance of health in development and aid spending

Health remains a critical pillar in development and aid spending for many nations globally. In fact, many donor countries and organizations allocate a significant portion of their foreign aid to support health-related programs in low-income countries.

Improving health can contribute to many positive developments, such as improving productivity, reducing poverty levels, and increasing life expectancy. It can also reduce the financial burden of healthcare and improve future economic growth.

The United Nations, for example, has identified the linkages between poverty and health, affirming that good health is crucial to poverty reduction (WHO, 2020).

Four basic measurements of health in development

To measure the health status of a population in a country, several indicators are taken into account, including life expectancy, child mortality, maternal health, and disease prevalence. Life expectancy calculated as an average number of years at birth for born population is the most widely used indicator of a country’s health.

A low life expectancy is a sign of deterioration in the overall health and wellbeing status of the population, including aspects such as access to healthcare, economic conditions, nutrition, and safety. Child mortality is another crucial marker of development that indicates the number of deaths per 1,000 live births of children under age five (WHO, 2020).

Maternal health, on the other hand, relates to the health of mothers during and after pregnancy. Disease indicators comprise the prevalence and disease burden of infectious as well as non-communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and others are some of the key disease indicators used to measure the health status of a population.

Health indicators worse in lower income countries

Income inequality is one of the factors responsible for health disparities between nations. In lower-income countries, healthcare infrastructure is often underdeveloped, and the disease burden is higher.

This is partly due to inadequate public spending on healthcare as well as poverty, malnutrition, and insufficient access to clean water and sanitation. These factors contribute to poor health outcomes, such as short life expectancy, high mortality rate, poor maternal health, and higher prevalence of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

Life expectancy comparisons between high and low-income countries

The gap in life expectancy between high and low-income countries remains substantial. In low-income countries, life expectancy is on average eighteen years shorter than in high-income countries.

The countries with the highest life expectancies are Japan, Switzerland, and Singapore, while the countries with the lowest life expectancies are Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, and Chad (World Population Review, 2021). The difference is due to several factors, including poverty, poor healthcare infrastructure, and higher disease burden in low-income countries.

Impact of COVID-19 on life expectancy

COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected the health indicators of countries globally. The pandemic has accelerated health inequalities, revealing the weaknesses of healthcare systems globally.

In many countries, healthcare systems have been overburdened, neglected, and under-resourced to cope with the increasing number of COVID-19 patients. As a consequence, the pandemic has significantly impacted the health status of the population around the world, contributing to a sharp rise in mortality rate and reducing life expectancy.

It is a stark reminder of the importance of investing in strong health systems and the critical role they play in saving lives and improving economic stability during crises such as pandemics. Conclusion:

In conclusion, health remains one of the essential indicators of development, and any viable strategy to achieve sustainable development must prioritize investments in health systems.

Improving health indicators such as life expectancy, child mortality, maternal health, and disease prevalence in low-income countries requires adequate public spending on healthcare infrastructure, reduction of poverty, better access and delivery of healthcare services, and increased focus on the prevention of diseases. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of healthcare systems around the world, requiring us to prioritize public health preparedness and investments to prevent and combat future pandemics.


Child Mortality

Global progress in reducing child deaths

The global community has made significant progress in reducing child mortality rates in recent years. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the global under-five mortality rate has declined by almost 60% since 1990.

This progress is due to a range of interventions that include vaccinations, improved sanitation, access to clean water, nutrition interventions, and improved healthcare services. However, despite this progress, millions of children still die annually from preventable causes, and much more needs to be done to ensure that every child is given the chance to survive and thrive.

Regional disparities in child mortality rates

Despite global progress in reducing child mortality rates, regional disparities persist, with Sub-Saharan Africa being the region with the highest child mortality rates globally. The region has accounted for more than half of all under-five deaths in the world, with one in every 13 children dying before their fifth birthday compared to one in every 185 in high-income countries (WHO, 2021).

The high child mortality rate is attributed to several factors, including poor nutrition, inadequate water supply and sanitation, limited access to healthcare services, and high prevalence of infectious diseases.

Countries with the highest number of child deaths

Nigeria has the highest number of child deaths in the world, with an estimated 858,000 deaths annually, followed by India, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopia (UNICEF, 2021). These countries account for more than half of all under-five deaths globally.

The causes of child deaths in these countries are primarily preventable, and the disparity requires attention from policymakers and other stakeholders to reduce the burden of under-five deaths in low- and middle-income countries globally.

Maternal Health

Maternal deaths related to preventable causes

Maternal mortality remains a significant public health concern, with hundreds of maternal deaths occurring globally each day. Maternal deaths are related to preventable causes, including bleeding, infections, hypertension during pregnancy, unsafe abortions, and obstructed labor (WHO, 2021).

Maternal mortality is also associated with gross inequalities in access to maternal healthcare services, including availability, affordability, and quality of care, particularly in low-income countries.

Regional disparities in maternal health

Like child mortality, regional disparities in maternal health persist, and Sub-Saharan African countries have the highest maternal mortality rates globally. The region accounts for approximately two-thirds of maternal deaths globally, with one in every 41 women dying due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth (WHO, 2021).

Poverty is one of the significant factors behind the high maternal mortality rates in the region. Its effects are mediated through poor nutrition, inadequate access to healthcare, limited education, and low standards of maternal care.

Causes of maternal deaths and linked factors

There are several causes of maternal deaths globally, with most of them related to a lack of access to basic maternal healthcare services. Poverty, for example, constrains womens access to healthcare services, including prenatal and postnatal care.

In some countries, women delay seeking care due to financial constraints or a lack of transportation. Poor nutrition, including iron deficiency and anemia, also increases the risk of maternal deaths.

Maternal undernutrition affects fetal growth and can cause complications during labor and delivery. Additionally, low standards of maternal care, including inadequate healthcare facilities, low staffing levels, and lack of essential drugs, contribute to high maternal mortality rates in some countries.


To achieve the goals of sustainable development, there must be a focus on improving health outcomes, including reducing child mortality and maternal mortality rates. The global community has made progress in reducing these rates, but regional disparities persist, with Sub-Saharan Africa recording the highest rates.

Poverty, inadequate healthcare services, and poor nutrition are among the factors driving the high rates of maternal and child mortality in the region. Therefore, to reduce maternal and child mortality, there is an urgent need to increase access to quality healthcare services, including nutrition interventions, and educate women on the importance of seeking prenatal and postnatal care.

Additionally, policymakers should focus on addressing the root causes of poverty and inequality, which have a direct impact on maternal and child morbidity and mortality. Expansion:

Disease Indicators

Causes and links to poverty and poor sanitation

Diseases such as diarrheal disease, cholera, typhoid, and hepatitis A are closely linked to poor water supply, sanitation, and hygiene. Inadequate access to safe drinking water, lack of basic sanitation facilities, and poor hygiene practices are more prevalent in low-income communities, leading to the spread of such diseases.

The burden of these diseases disproportionately affects the most vulnerable populations, including children under five and pregnant women. Poverty aggravates this situation, making it difficult for people to have access to basic sanitation services and maintain good hygiene practices.

Neonatal conditions related to child mortality rates and poor maternal health

Neonatal conditions are closely related to child mortality rates and maternal health. Neonatal conditions refer to health problems that occur within the first month of a babys life, including birth asphyxia, infections, and congenital anomalies.

Neonatal conditions account for approximately 47% of under-five deaths globally, making it the leading cause of death in children under five (WHO, 2021). Poor maternal health, including inadequate prenatal care, contributes to neonatal mortality rates.

Therefore, improving maternal health is critical in reducing neonatal mortality.

Heart disease and stroke as indicators of economic development

Heart disease and stroke are among the leading causes of death globally, with a higher incidence in high-income countries. The incidence of these diseases has been linked to economic development, with higher income countries having a higher prevalence of heart disease and stroke compared to low-income countries.

The reasons for this link are multifactorial and include factors such as high-calorie diets, sedentary lifestyles, and exposure to risk factors such as smoking and air pollution.

Progress in Improving Health

Progress in reducing HIV and Malaria as leading causes of death

HIV and malaria are two of the leading causes of death globally, particularly in low-income countries. However, significant progress has been made in reducing the burden of these diseases through various interventions, including vaccinations, increased access to antiretroviral therapy for HIV patients, and the distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets to prevent malaria transmission.

For instance, between 2000 and 2019, the global malaria mortality rate decreased by 60%, while HIV-related deaths reduced by 39% since the peak in 2004 (WHO, 2020).

Increase in Heart Disease and Stroke as a sign of longer life expectancy

Heart disease and stroke, despite being leading causes of death, are more prevalent in high-income countries where life expectancy is high. In these countries, the population is aging, and the incidence of these diseases increases with age.

However, an increase in the incidence of heart disease and stroke is a marker of progress in improving health outcomes as it is linked to longer life expectancy. The incidence of these diseases could be reduced with preventive measures that encourage healthy lifestyles, such as regular physical activity, healthy diets, and smoking cessation.


Disease indicators are essential in measuring the health of a population and the effectiveness of interventions aimed at improving health outcomes globally. Poverty, inadequate access to basic sanitation, and nutrition are key factors driving the spread of diseases such as diarrheal disease and hepatitis A, while improving maternal health outcomes is critical in reducing neonatal mortality rates.

While progress has been made in reducing the burden of some diseases such as HIV and malaria, much more needs to be done to reduce the prevalence of diseases such as heart disease and stroke, particularly in high-income countries. Therefore, policymakers must prioritize reducing health disparities within and among nations and invest in preventive interventions that promote healthy lifestyles and access to quality healthcare services.


Relevance to A-level Sociology

Impact of income inequality on health disparities

Income inequality has severe implications for a country’s health outcomes and is a key factor in determining health disparities. Income inequality refers to the unequal distribution of income among the population of a country, with the richest having significantly more income than the poorest.

Inequality affects many aspects of human life, including health. Evidence shows that countries with higher levels of income inequality tend to have worse health outcomes, with increased rates of mortality, morbidity, and mental health problems (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2020).

Income inequality exacerbates existing health disparities, creating an unequal distribution of resources, opportunities, and power, which affects access to health care, safe living environments, and employment – all factors that play an essential role in determining health outcomes.

Social determinants of health and their role in development

Social determinants of health are the economic and social conditions that shape the health of individuals and communities. Evidence shows that social determinants of health, such as poverty, discrimination, low education levels, and unemployment, have significant effects on individual health outcomes and population health as a whole.

Poor and marginalized populations tend to have worse health outcomes than those who are better off. This is because the social determinants of health contribute to the development and perpetuation of health disparities.

Addressing social determinants of health is critical in promoting health equity and reducing health disparities within and among nations. Understanding the role of social determinants of health in development is crucial in identifying effective interventions that promote sustainable development.


The topics covered in this article are of significant relevance to A-level sociology, as they highlight the complex relationships between health, development, and social inequality. Socioeconomic factors such as income inequality, social determinants of health, and poverty are significant determinants of health outcomes and play an essential role in shaping the development of a nation.

To promote sustainable development and improve health outcomes globally, policymakers and other stakeholders must address the underlying causes of social inequality and prioritize interventions that reduce health disparities within and among nations. This will require a concerted effort from international organizations, governments, and the private sector to ensure that health, development, and social justice remain at the center of sustainable development efforts.

In conclusion, this article has examined the significance of health as an indicator of development, explored various health

Popular Posts