Center for Health Policy, Planning and Management
School of Health Systems Studies
Background: Poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon that can be defined in both economic and social terms. The paper attempts to review existing evidence to understand the relation between poverty and ill health in the context of the limited conceptual and operational definitions of these terms. The paper uses two of Hills criteria- reversibility and dose response relationship to understand the association between poverty and health. Methods: This study is based on review of literature from secondary sources retrieved using key words like poverty, health and economic growth. Relevant studies were identified capturing theoretical and empirical evidence on this issue. Results: The relationship between poverty and health is a complex one. There is evidence that poverty and income inequality may be the cause of ill health. However, the association does not stop there. Ill health can drive households into more poverty thus creating a vicious cycle between poverty and ill health. Conclusions: The relationship between health and wealth is heterogeneous and does not operate in isolation. Providing income may not always improve health. Appropriate redistribution of income may be helpful. However, without taking into context the socio-cultural, educational and social support structures, income redistribution by itself may not be meaningful. With the MDG targets on poverty and health not being met by most countries, it is to be seen if the SDG focus on poverty and health translates into meaningful action.