During a discussion on Quora a comment was made in response to my answer to the question Does feminism exist on the street? Does it exist for women who are homeless or living in poverty? That response was: “Poverty doesn’t kill people.”
The comment has been deleted. At the time it was posted I chose to simply allow it to stand without response.
However, it stuck in my head for several days, rattling around and making connection with another statement I have heard many times over the years: “AIDs doesn’t kill, complications from contracting the AIDs virus kills.”
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AIDs vs Opportunistic Infections
From a scientific or medical perspective HIV (the AIDs virus), in and of itself, does not kill. AIDs attacks the immune system, which makes the patient vulnerable to other diseases (opportunistic infections) and those diseases are what ultimately kill the patient. For additional scientific data see:
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Poverty vs Social Determinants
It is also true that poverty, in and of itself, does not kill. Humans do not need cash to live, they need the things cash can buy. In that respect, poverty is just like the AIDs virus – potentially lethal problems are introduced as a direct result of being poor (Social Determinants or Social Factors) but the cause of death is never identified as ‘poverty.’ For example:
- A homeless person without winter shelter dies of exposure or hypothermia.
- A lifetime of poor nutrition or malnutrition, causes medical problems that can become lethal.
- A child who does not survive the first two years of life has succumbed to infant mortality.
- A teenager who is shot on the way to school is a murder victim who dies from a gunshot wound.
- A poor person ensnared by human trafficking is a victim of criminal activity.
- Living in close proximity to other people, under highly unsanitary conditions, causes a poor person to contract a lethal respiratory disease – the cause of death is tuberculosis.
For more information on the Social Determinants that contribute to the death of poor people, see the following (sadly incomplete) list of references and links:
- Cold Weather Has Already Claimed The Lives Of The Homeless, Think Progress, 01/08/2015
- Cincinnati homeless are dying on our streets, Cincinnati.com
- Homeless Remembrance Project, Facebook Page
- Vigil memorializes 41 homeless people who died in the District in 2015, The Washington Post
- Poverty and child (0-14 years) mortality in the USA and other Western countries as an indicator of “how well a country meets the needs of its children” (UNICEF).
- Poverty and death in the United States. International journal of health services : planning, administration, evaluation, Vol. 26, No. 4. (1996), pp. 673-690
- The income-associated burden of disease in the United States.
Social science & medicine (1982), Vol. 61, No. 9. (November 2005), pp. 2018-2026
- Giving everyone the health of the educated: an examination of whether social change would save more lives than medical advances. American journal of public health, Vol. 97, No. 4. (1 April 2007)
- Estimated deaths attributable to social factors in the United States.
American journal of public health, Vol. 101, No. 8. (16 August 2011),
- Greater income inequality linked to more deaths for black Americans | Berkeley News
- Poverty leads to death for more black Americans than whites | Money | The Guardian
- Poverty Kills. Better Policy, Not Better Medicine, Is the Solution | Kristen Lewis
- Poverty Kills More People Every Year Than Either Of the Top Killers — Heart Disease or Cancer, Hub Pages
‘Poverty does not kill’ is a legitimate statement but a failed argument. Neither poverty nor AIDs are directly and immediately lethal, but there is a clearly identified connection:
- If the AIDs virus could be destroyed or removed, the immune system would return to normal and a reasonably healthy life could be resumed.
- If poverty were eliminated, the resources necessary to establishing and leading a safe and healthy life could be achieved.
I welcome all comments on this topic. In particular, I would like to invite people to post articles illustrating all of the Social Determinants that result in the deaths of people trying to survive poverty.