In Real Life, Wealth Trumps Health

By Meshack Idehen

My opinion about the prominent and inevitable place of wealth over health may be an unpopular one but it remains a fact of life and living that we cannot shy away from. I believe it is for these reasons that Psychologists are probing why people are living longer because they have more money.

The first time I ever witnessed the power of wealth over health was when I waited with some volunteers and listened helplessly outside a village hut as a man groaned in pain, illness and discomfort. He eventually died from the malaria infected on him by rampaging anopheles mosquitoes. That was in Nigeria in 2011 and I had joined a mission group providing free medical and education services to rural far-flung communities in Nigeria, a nation where the sad juxtaposition of health versus is brought to life in real time.

As someone with the core values of empathy and the ability to listen, it is easy for me to understand the great disparity in health and wealth existing between the rich and the poor across national boundaries. Values that drive my everyday life and living such as accountability and taking responsibilities has for me made this a clear and present challenge that must be quickly and expertly addressed by stakeholders.

With almost little or nothing in terms of monetary cost to globally eradicate the disease from the face of the earth according to experts, malaria continues to claim hundreds of thousands upon thousands of innocent and helpless lives every year in Africa, Asia and South America, chiefly due to poverty,(wealth) lack of wealth or access to it, coupled with the grim reality that getting treatment for an illness as basic as malaria will cost a fortune; a fortune which many people living in those parts of the world don’t have or will ever hope to. Sadly, it was more than seven days after the incident that I got to find out that the man mentioned in the opening paragraph who died from malaria was not only a poor man, but was also unemployed at the time of his death, had no money to feed while alive and sick, and while the disease that eventually took his life was such that he could have been cured or treated from if he had money, some wealth or even access to reasonable healthcare.

Wealth makes the difference between health and ill health not only in Africa, but also in developed nations.  As cited by Jason Q. Purnell of Washington University in his article published by the American Psychological Association in 2015, the connection between financial health and physical and mental health is a straight and direct one. The results of the “Stress in America Survey” showed that money topped the list of worries, ahead of work, family, and even health issues. The connection of financial stress to health is quite explicit in the survey results, with nearly one-third of respondents who say that struggling to get by financially affects their ability to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Clearly said, my point of view about the important and unquestionable place of wealth over health in the reality of today’s world stands reinforced in the face of recent studies. According to Rebecca C. Clay in her article. “Wealth Secured Health” that was published by the American Psychological Association in 2001, it is a proven fact that the lower your socioeconomic status, the greater your risk of both physical and psychological health problems. Even the super-rich and very wealthy are not left out of this health, wealth disparity. The reality is that wealth is health, and when, where it is available, it is not affordable, except for only the rich and super wealthy. It is for these reasons I believe, that psychologists are working hard across the world to find answers. As Rebecca Clay wrote, “using new methodological strategies, psychologists are figuring out how a constellation of economic, social and work factors–together known as socioeconomic status–affects health.

“One of the consequences for the growing poor is worsening health”, wrote Sapolsky. Robert M in is work, the health-Wealth Gap that was published by Scientific American in November 2018, and I believe Psychologists are right probing why people are living longer because they have more money. Taken together, I am inclined towards believing that the health versus wealth debate has become more prominent in recent years because of the life and lifestyles the rich and wealthy display before the poor and not so wealthy.  Even though rich and wealthy people work, but they do not work as hard and long as regular people.

I once reflected on how every day is slowly draining away the health of citizens. These worries and toils of the poor all adds up to contribute health crisis in the country. Wealth and income disparities in communities and nations continue to and contribute to the challenges of public health. According to Sapolsky, “lower socioeconomic status (SES) means less access to health care and living in more disease-prone neighborhoods. The SES ladder’s lower rungs have become more populated; the number of people with medical problems has climbed.”

In 2015, the published  American Psychological Association article “ Survey Shows Money Stress Weighing on Americans’ Health Nationwide showed how  money stress is weighing on Americans’ health nationwide. “Regardless of the economic climate, money and finances have remained the top stressor since our survey began in 2007. Furthermore, this year’s survey shows that stress related to financial issues could have a significant impact on Americans’ health and well-being,” APA CEO and Executive Vice President Norman B. Anderson, PhD, said.

As one who is always aware of his core values of empathy, ability to listen, take up and meet responsibilities, the issues of health and wealth, and how they affect our lives and careers are those that I consider important, and which we must holistically address, so that the work-life balance that we all seek can be achieved. As a person who possesses the core value of empathy it saddens me whenever I see individuals or communities grappling with health challenges that have come as we mindlessly seek wealth. As a person with the core value of responsibility, I feel the rich and wealthy must do more, and use their infinite wealth to bridge the health wealth gap, and in doing do, help create a perfect work-life balance for many. Without these, the debates on these vital issues will simply go on, and the fallacy that health is wealth will continue to fly, when the reality of today speaks otherwise. To my mind, health and social problems will grow as income disparities widen within individuals and societies. The earlier we agree that the narratives have changed regarding health being wealth, the better for us all.

Lending credence to the importance of wealth in relations to health, Angela Johnson, a Geographic Information Systems Specialist at the University of Missouri Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems in her article, “A Healthy Return, Advocates Investing In Troubled Communities Hope To Bring About More Than Just Surface-Level Change” published by Steve Sternberg the  Assistant Managing Editor of Health at in May 2018, Johnson said categories such as food and nutrition, public safety, area economy and infrastructure, among others which non wealthy are challenged by are measures of health and economic well-being have proved to be among the most powerful predictors of a community’s health status. “There was a very strong relationship between average household income and health outcomes and behaviors,” Johnson said.

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