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Wealth and Health

Posted by Martin Donohue, MD FACP on February 28, 2011

Today there are 51 million uninsured Americans, and many more who are underinsured, cannot afford co-pays or pharmaceuticals, or simply lack access to basic health care for geographic and myriad other reasons. Worldwide, at least 1 billion people live in urban slums; 1.1 billion people lack access to safe, clean drinking water, resulting in 1.8 million child deaths/year; 2 billion have no electricity; 2.6 billion do not have adequate sanitation services; 2.8 billion live on less than $2/day; 3 billion have never made a phone call; 3.8 billion have no cash or credit with which to make purchases; and 770 million are illiterate. Women and people of color continue to suffer social, educational, legal, and political marginalization.

The gap between rich and poor has widened internationally, and is greatest here in the U.S. The government is spending trillions on wars and militarism which cutting basic services, while states are experiencing budget crises. Meanwhile, tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans prop up an inherently unjust and unstable system. Holocaust survivor Primo Levi addressed a similar phenomenon decades ago, writing “A country is considered the more civilized the more the wisdom and efficiency of its laws hinder a weak man from becoming too weak or a powerful one too powerful.” It is sad to note that less than 4% of the combined wealth of the 225 richest individuals in the world would pay for ongoing access to basic education, health care (including reproductive health care), adequate food, safe water, and adequate sanitation for all humans (UNDP).

I am delighted to be a part of the Wealth without Health panel. For those seeking further information, see my website covering public health and social justice at of There you will find articles and open-access powerpoints covering topics such as single payer health care, environmental health, women’s health, food safety, war and militarism, the role of corporations in undermining public health, and much more. The site gets approximately 14,000 page views per month and is always accepting new material. Other worthwhile sites, noted among the hundreds of external links you will find, include the Social Medicine portal at, the Medicine and Social Justice blog at, and Physicians for a National Health Program at

See you in April.



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