The connection between inequities in healthcare and nutritional access and metabolic conditions like diabetes has been well established. What is often overlooked is that these diseases represent matters of environmental justice as well. While this second point is becoming increasingly apparent in MDC, the connections of environmental issues and the epidemic of non-communicable disease in LDC have been largely overlooked potentially buttressing exploitative capitalist systems.
A relic of the colonial era that continues to pervade modern medical thinking is the linking of non-communicable disease vulnerability with affluent western bodies and infectious disease with citizens of LDCs. Cancer treatment in African provides ample evidence of this view. When Africa’s oncological burden receives attention, it is largely directed towards Kaposi Sarcoma and other virally associated cancers such as those derived from HPV which conform to traditional conceptions of “African bodies” susceptible to infectious disease. Overlooked as viral cancers are pushed to the fore are malignancies which can be closely linked to the growth of global capital. Notable among these are breast cancers associated with increasing obesity, the use of artificial estrogen and bottle feeding and lung cancer in uranium miners. Allen Brandt summarizes this reality by addressing the perverse logics of big tobacco’s infiltration of African markets.
“The industry’s assertion that harms deemed unacceptable in the affluent West are tolerated in the developing world smacks of moral dubiousness. It implies that people… really don’t object to dying of cancer so long as they were spared from TB or Cholera.”
While infectious disease obviously persists in exerting an enormous negative impact on much of the world, old narratives presenting them as the sole cause of health disparities should not blind us to other equally valid issues that impact the health of citizens in LDCs.