Home > Global > Ill-health and poverty: a literature review on health in informal settlements

Ill-health and poverty: a literature review on health in informal settlements

Environment and Urbanization, April 2011

Ill-health and poverty: a literature review on health in informal settlements

Alice Sverdlik, IIED, 3 Endsleigh Street, London WC1H 0DD, UK,  alice.sverdlik.09@ucl.ac.uk

This paper reviews the literature on health in the informal settlements (and “slums”) that now house a substantial proportion of the urban population in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Although this highlights some important gaps in research, available studies do suggest that urban health inequalities usually begin at birth, are reproduced over a lifetime (often reinforced by undernutrition), and may be recreated through vulnerabilities to climate change and a “double burden” of communicable and non-communicable diseases.

The review begins with a discussion of papers with a life-course perspective on health, poverty and housing, before considering recent literature on chronic poverty and ill-health over time. It then discusses the literature on the cost, quality and access to care among low-income groups, and the under-recognized threat of unintentional injuries. This includes recent literature that discusses where low-income residents may suffer an “urban penalty” rather than benefiting from urban bias — although there are also studies that show the effectiveness of accessible, pro-poor health care.

The concluding section examines emerging risks such as non-communicable diseases and those associated with climate change. It notes how more gender- and age-sensitive strategies can help address the large inequalities in health between those in informal settlements and other urban residents. With greater attention to the multi-faceted needs of low-income communities, governments can create interventions to ensure that urban centres fulfil their enormous potential for health.

Categories: Global
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