Blog Action Day: the human right to health

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My son’s uncle Nkrumah, a cocoa farmer.

In the UN declaration on human rights the human right to health is covered by Article 25:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care ….[etc]

I take a personal interest in this. A few weeks ago, one of my son’s uncles died. Of typhoid. He barely scraped past the average Ghanaian life expectancy of 61 – 62 years.

cocoa pods

Cocoa pods.

Nkrumah was a cocoa farmer in Ghana. He lived in a village that his father had carved out of the rainforest around 70 years ago. To this day, it has no electricity, no running water, and communal toilets that are essentially large open pits straddled by planks on which to squat.

My dad was also a farmer. He lived until 97, far exceeding the current Australian life expectancy of 79-85 years. (When he was born, in 1913, Australian life expectancy was more or less what it is in Ghana today). He died of old age. We had taps, flush toilets, etc., etc.

I couldn’t find out the incidence of typhoid in Ghana, but vaccination is recommended for travellers.

You don’t need a typhoid vaccination to enter Australia.

Typhoid is a disease associated with poor sanitation. Ghanaian media in recent years have reported that street food sellers in some areas have high rates of typhoid (you can be infectious without getting sick).

This is probably because they too, are using pit toilets and living in areas with no sewerage or clean water. It’s also because health care is expensive, and food sellers do not have high incomes. This is a deterrent to testing and treatment.

Food poisoning can happen anywhere, but you are highly unlikely to get typhoid from eating out in Australia. Almost all typhoid cases are contracted overseas. Chefs and caterers have access to sanitation, clean water, and free basic health care.

Even in Ghana, where it is more common, typhoid is not always lethal. Although, increasingly, it is. You may have heard of multi-drug resistant TB. Now there’s also multi-drug resistant typhoid. Perhaps that’s why AM’s uncle died, because there were no longer any drugs that could heal him.

Ghanaian researchers are trying to find out more about typhoid in their country. They want solutions, but they are having to compromise.  ‘In the absence of an affordable program to assure safe water and better sanitary conditions in less developed countries, efforts have been directed towards primary prevention through vaccination’, says Julius Fobil, from Ghana University’s School of Public Health. [My italics]

Hmmm. Does that sound wrong to you too? Now what was it the UN Declaration said?

Most of our family in Ghana are - or have been - cocoa farmers. If you like dark chocolate you would love these beans. Chew on 3 or 4 and you get quite a buzz.

Fermented, dried cocoa beans.

‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family …’

Shouldn’t that include ‘safe water and better sanitary conditions’?

Nkrumah’s body has been taken to the regional capital, Kumasi, to be placed on ice pending his burial in the family’s ancestral town. The funeral won’t be for at least a month. The family have to wait until cocoa sales resume in a few weeks, before they can get the cash to pay for it.

There’s only one more thing I have to say.

Buy Fair Trade

It won’t solve all the problems, but it’s a start.


This post was written for Blog Action Day, an international online conversation that takes place every year. This year the theme voted in by participating bloggers is human rights.

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2 thoughts on “Blog Action Day: the human right to health

  1. It’s small actions that we all take which will bring about change. Thanks for sharing such a personal story to illustrate that we still have a long way to go.

  2. Thanks Sally, yes, every little bit helps. I just felt angry when he died, and I wanted to share this story to show the impact of our choices on real people.

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