Intended for healthcare professionals


Extreme poverty: an obligation ignored

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 13 July 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:65
  1. John Kevany
  1. Associate professor of international health Department of Community Health and General Practice, Trinity College, Dublin 2, Republic of Ireland

    Breaking the cycle between poverty and ill health needs multisectoral action

    The world's biggest killer and the greatest cause of ill health and suffering across the globe is listed almost at the end of the International Classification of Diseases. It is given code Z59.5—extreme poverty.1

    Extreme poverty is defined as a level of income or expenditure below which people cannot afford a minimum, nutritionally adequate diet and essential non-food requirements.2 The effects of poverty on health are never more clearly expressed than in poor communities of the developing world. The absence of safe water, environmental sanitation, adequate diet, secure housing, basic education, income generating opportunities, and access to health care act in obvious and direct ways to produce ill health, particularly from infectious disease, malnutrition, and reproductive hazards.3

    Today the number of people in extreme poverty is estimated at 1.1 billion—a fifth of the world's population. The wealthiest fifth of the world's population now controls 85% of global gross national product and 85% of world trade, leaving the poorest quintile with …

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