Nicholas Kristof’s editorial
(subscription required) in yesterday’s New York Times
outlines the huge challenges facing health care in developing countries. In addition to poverty, inadequate facilities, insufficient medications, and lack of trained personnel, civil conflict and instability join his list of “great killers” that significantly impede efforts to improve health and development in Rwanda, Burundi, and other African countries. Death and disease from poor health are thus part of the “the vast human cost” of allowing conflicts to “fester in forgotten parts of the world.”
Similarly, speakers at a recent ECSP meeting series described ways that health and population issues can be both part of the problem and the solution to instability and conflict. Countries in conflict and post-conflict face almost insurmountable obstacles to providing adequate health care for their citizens. But improving health and health capacity (e.g., a better-trained workforce and improved infrastructure) is part and parcel of increasing a region’s stability.
Kristof finds answers in Paul Collier’s new book The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. At the Wilson Center in May, Collier recommended four potential policy tools for assisting developing countries—aid, improved access to trade, foreign investment, and security and peacebuilding—yet pointed out that most of our time, attention, and money is dedicated to aid. He argued that a more well-rounded approach—one that recognizes that infrastructure and an educated workforce are necessary but not sufficient for development—has a higher likelihood of success. As Kristof says, “It’s pointless to build clinics when rebel groups are running around burning towns and shooting doctors.”
Ultimately, he calls on the West “not just to build hospitals and schools, but also to work with the African Union to provide security in areas that have been ravaged by rebellion and war.” Kristof deserves tremendous credit for making and publicizing the critical—but overlooked—connection between civil conflict and health.