The Effects of Poverty On Health and Education

This is an excerpt from my essay Poverty: The Effects and a Moral Obligation to Help Others. You can find the downloadable PDF with complete citations in this post.

Both types of poverty negatively affect its victims to various degrees. The lack of funding results in a weak education system for many regions of the country. This weak education system leads to a generally uneducated population that produces few people equipped with the knowledge and skills to have professions in necessary fields, such as the education, economic, legal, and medical fields.  With a lack of education in the medical fields and little common knowledge on personal health, health issues arise, especially issues pertaining to reproductive health.  With little knowledge of legal rights, or potentially a lack of legal rights in general, poor people are often exploited for their labor.

Besides the obvious health issues that come with poverty, such as malnutrition and related disorders and diseases, there are other very serious conditions that come out of the lack of education and access to health care that are linked with poverty.  Official data indicate that the average life expectancy is slightly lower for those living in the Dominican Republic, versus a much more developed country, such as a United States.  Data show that average life expectancy for a resident of the Dominican Republic is 78.3 years, whereas the life expectancy of an American counterpart would be 80 years, which is just 1.7 years longer.  The average life expectancy in the Dominican Republic seems to be relatively high, given the immense poverty in much of this country.  Although these figures are from a set of official data collected by the U.S. Government, there is a chance that this may not take into consideration many people who are born and die in more rural and impoverished areas. Almost a quarter of the children in the world who are under the age of five are not taken accounted for or are properly documented. In many Dominican villages in the mountains near the Haitian border, hospitals are less accessible, making it very likely that many people are being born and dying in their homes without leaving a trace of documented evidence of their lives.  These same people who were too poor to have a legal identity are the same people that are prone to dying of poverty-related causes.

The given statistics show that the average length of life is only slightly affected by the poverty in the Dominican Republic.  Spending just a few moments in any part of the Dominican Republic that is not masked by luxurious tourism will show that life for many is lived in devastation.  Personal observations in the Dominican Republic have led me to believe that data presented by the U.S. Government and other agencies on additional issues, such as literacy rates and the magnitude people with serious sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), may not adequately represent the situation at hand.

The Dominican Republic has a reputation linked to sex work and sex tourism.  These industries, along with a lack of education on sexuality and the reproductive system, make for a suitable Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) spread environment that allows the disease to be transferred without the host being aware.  In 2016, just under 100 children between the ages of newborn and 14-years-old contracted HIV.  In the same year, just under 500 teenagers between ages 15 and 19-years-old were reported to have tested positive for HIV.  Less than 20 percent of the teenagers ages 15 to 19-years-old were even tested for HIV and given the results in the past year, meaning there are many more teenagers that have contracted HIV that have not been taken into account.

Only 2.3 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the Dominican Republic is spent on public education, which is a lower percentage than other countries that are even more impoverished.  In addition to the ridiculously low amount of government contribution to education, the funding is provided is unequally distributed between rural (which are typically poorer) and urban (which are typically wealthier) areas, favoring the urban areas.  With type of disproportion, it is difficult for the issues that come of poverty to be fixed or lessened, since education is an important vehicle in creating more prosperous communities.

According to data collected by UNICEF, the literacy rate of Dominicans ages fifteen to twenty-four is approximately 97 percent. Literacy is defined as “the ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential,” when being used in a conceptual sense. About 90 percent of Dominican students are reported to reach the fifth grade.  Data show school attendance falling while students are progressing in their education, as only 61 percent of students attend secondary school.  Broken down further, 85.6 percent of children in the wealthiest quintile attend secondary school, whereas only 31.7 percent of children in the poorest quintile attend secondary school.

Most information from the UNICEF database has checked out when cross referenced, but suspicions arise when analyzing this data.  Part of the mission trips that I have been on includes checking report cards of secondary school students to ensure that they are doing well before rewarding them with various items.  It is alarming when a child brings his report card that shows that he only attends school 20 percent of the time, which would be an average of one day a week, yet manages to have straight As and pass to the next grade level.  Now, one could say that this child is a genius or protégé, but this same boy points to the mountains and believes that he is pointing to Africa.  When given Dr. Seuss books, he struggles to sound out words.  He does not earn these grades, but is given them.  He is pushed through the system because there is not adequate funding to hold him back from the next grade level.

This boy is not a unique example.  Many of his peers were in the same situation.  The parents do not encourage them to go to school, because they are not education either.  When our mission group brought 300 books to the preschool we work with in the Dominican Republic to distribute to the students for at home reading material, the teachers only allowed for us to give books to specific students who they had taught how the read.  Their reason for this was that they knew most of the parents did not know how to read and they did not want the books to go to waste.

If such a large portion of people in this one village are illiterate, it is difficult to determine what the actual rate of literacy is throughout the country, especially when there are many villages in even more rural areas that were much worse off.  As earlier mentioned, there could be inaccuracies in the data due to the fact that there are many unrecorded births in the rural areas.  The people in the rural areas, have less access to am adequate education do to the lack of funding for facilities, materials, and teachers.

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