Poverty is associated with the undermining of a range of key human attributes, including health. The poor are often exposed to greater personal and environmental health risk factors, have less access to health care services, and have limited lifestyle-related choices. They are also more likely to experience discrimination, abuse and exploitation. Conversely, illness can reduce household savings, lower learning ability, reduce productivity, and lead to a diminished quality of life, thereby perpetuating or even increasing poverty.

    Poverty is often defined in absolute terms of low income – less than US$2 a day, for example. But in reality, the consequences of poverty exist on a relative scale. The poorest of the poor, around the world, have the worst health. Within countries, the evidence shows that in general the lower an individual’s socioeconomic position the worse their health. Unclean water, deficient sanitation and food safety play a significant role in the development of cholera and viral hepatitis, and contribute to neglected tropical diseases such as guinea-worm disease and schistosomiasis.

    Lack of education and inadequate housing often contributes to high rates of maternal mortality, adolescent pregnancy, sexual assault, and high rates of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV and human papillomavirus (HPV).

    Infectious diseases have historically dominated the African Region but poverty impacts noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer as well. 

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