Risk, Knowledge and Health in Africa: Introduction to the Symposium
African Development Review, 2009
Posted: 21 May 2011
Date Written: April 11, 2009
The African natural and policy environment can be quite risky. Particularly in rural areas, weather and pests are a constant threat to livelihood, as are the vagaries of world markets and government policy. Not surprisingly, African households have developed approaches to mitigation of, and adaptation to, these risks. Livelihood diversification, and growing crops with less risky yields, even if the yields are lower on average, is one strategy to reduce risk ex ante, as is reliance on self-provisioning and home production as a source of food. Sharing mechanisms that enable households to transfer risk ex post within and beyond their village is another. But weather and policy shocks to output and incomes are not the only risk. Health shocks are prevalent in tropical Africa where most countries have ecologies that make them vulnerable to not just hunger induced by droughts, but killer infectious diseases. Geography has thus contributed to the widespread prevalence of malaria, schistosomiasis, and other vector borne diseases in much of the continent. More recently, with the spread of HIV/AIDS, sexual activity is accompanied by extreme risk. Poor health, in its various guises, affects well-being and productivity of individuals and households. Health risk thus permeates economic life in Africa, and to date health systems, and provision of services by both government and private institutions, have proven no match for long-standing diseases, let alone emerging health challenges such as HIV/AIDS.
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