Cancer in the body politic:Killing them softly

Poor people die far younger of all the major diseases because of deprivation
By Vincent Browne


“It has been estimated that 5,400 fewer people would die prematurely each year if death rates were reduced to match those in Europe by tackling social deprivation and inequalities”, wrote Ruth Barrington, head of the Health Research Board. (This is stated on page 3 of ‘Poverty is Bad for Your Health', published by Combat Poverty).

Ruth Barrington was relying on extrapolations for a startling report by the Institute of Public Health. This revealed:

•    Death rates from all causes were twice to     three times higher in the lowest occupa        tional class than the rate in the highest         occupational class;
•    For circulatory diseases death rates were         over 120 per cent higher;
•     For cancers death rates were 100 per cent     higher;
•     For respiratory diseases death rates were         over 200 per cent higher.

The report noted: “As well as the huge gap in mortality between the poorest and the richest, for many diseases there was a steep gradient running across all socialgroups”. This was true in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. This report applies to the period 1989 to 1998 but the scale of inequality is reckoned to be little different since then because of the continuing inequalities in income and wealth, housing and education. The detail of the report is even more startling:

•    For all infectious and parasitic diseases in     the Republic death rates were over 370 per     cent more (that is nearly five times more);
•     For tuberculosis, death rates were over         300 per cent more;
•     For all neoplasms, death rates were over         110 per cent more;
•    For malignant neoplasms of the oesophgus,     death rates were over 230 per cent more.
•     For malignant neoplasms  of the larynx,         and trachea/bronchus/lung, death rates         were 280 per cent higher;
•     For endocrine, nutritional and metabolic         diseases, the death rate was 230 per cent  more;
•     For diabetes mellitus, death rates were         230 per cent more;
•     For mental and behavioural disorders,         death rates were 360 per cent higher;
•     For alcohol abuse, death rates were 280 per     cent more;
•     For drug dependence, toxic mania, death     rates were 590 per cent more;
•     For pneumonia, death rates were 200 per     cent more;
•     For chronic lower respiratory disease, it was     340 per cent more;
•     For ulcer of the stomach, death rates 340     per cent more;
•     For chronic liver disease, death rates 170     per cent more.

Maev Ann Wrenn, writing about the health system, stated: “Irish people die younger because they tolerate an inequality between them that breeds ill-health, and they accept a health care system and a view of health care which implicitly places lesser value on the lives of those with lesser means”. š