Appendix 78b - Priorities

by Michael Greger, MD and United Progressive Alumni

[ Medical School Resources | Appendices | Discussion ]

How Much is a Human Life Worth?

The 1998 World Health Organization's World Health Report was summarized best in a speech by Fidel Castro before the World Trade Organization:

Nowhere in the world, in no act of genocide, in no war, are so many people killed per minute, per hour and per day as those killed by hunger and poverty on our planet. We must ask why 500,000 [children] are left blind every year for lack of a simple vitamin which costs less than a pack of cigarettes per year?

Why are 200 million children under five years of age undernourished? Why are there 250 million children and adolescents working? Why do 110 million not attend primary school and 275 million fail to attend secondary school? Why do 2 million girls become prostitutes each year?

Why in this world - which already produces almost 30 trillion dollars worth of goods and services each year - do one billion 300 million human beings live in absolute poverty, receiving less than a dollar a day - when there are those who receive more than a million dollars a day?

How much is a human life worth?.... According to UN estimates, the cost of providing universal access to basic health services would be 25 billion dollars per year - just three percent of the 800 billion dollars which are currently devoted to military expenditure - and this is after the cold war.[978]

There are 40 million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, 'Why are there 40 million poor people here?' - Martin Luther King, Jr.

The United States has the largest gap between rich and poor worldwide. A wealth economics specialist estimated that the net wealth of Bill Gates alone is greater than the combined net worth of the poorest 40 percent of Americans (106 million people). According to the Children's Defense Fund, the U.S. has the highest percentage of children in poverty among eighteen industrialized countries. We're number one.[979]

One Missile and Eleven Bombers

The cost of developing a U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile is enough money to feed 50 million children, build 160,000 schools, or open 340,000 health centers.[980] A UNICEF report points out that all children born in the world this year could be provided with 4 years of schooling for the cost of 11 bombers. It asserts that the cost of a single U.S. nuclear submarine alone is equal to the annual education budget of 23 developing nations.[981]

And we continue to look for other ways to transform public moneys into private profits. According to the British Medical Journal, in 1995 the United States awarded a contract for the production of 75 prototypes and training units for its portable rifle mounted blinding laser. The U.S. army has stated that these lasers, "can burn out a human retina from a distance of 3000 feet."[982]

George Bernard Shaw:

Security, the chief pretense of civilization, cannot exist where the worst of dangers, the danger of poverty, hangs over everyone's head, and where the alleged protection of our persons from violence is only an accidental result of the existence of a police force whose real business is to force the poor man to see his children starve whilst idle people overfeed pet dogs with the money that might feed and clothe them.




[979] Kasper, J and AF Meyers. "The UDHR and the Physician's Role." The Lancet 352(1998):733.

[980] Sivard, RL. World Military & Social Expenditures Washington: World Priorities, Incorporated, 1996.

[981] Robbins, J. Reclaiming Our Health Tiburon, CA: HJ Kramer, 1996:317.

[982] "The International Arms Trade and Its Impact on health." British Medical Journal 311(1995):1677.



Add a comment | Add a link