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Characterization and Local Perceptions of Poverty Among Rural Households in Northern Zambia

HC Witola
KS Baboo
S Siziya
P Chanda-Kapata


Background: Poverty has been linked with poor  health outcomes in world health reports and cited by many scholars and leading health economists and public health specialist as a cause for poor health seeking behaviours especially for the rural poor. Poverty and ill-health are so closely intertwined that it is possible to use the words interchangeably, and still mean the same thing. Poverty has been defined as “a state of relative equilibrium of body form and function which results from its successful dynamic adjustments to forces tending to disturb it. It is not a passive interplay between body and forces impinging upon it but an active response of body forces working towards readjustment”. Poverty on the other hand has been defined as a “lack of access to income, employment, and normal internal entitlements for the citizens to such things as freely determined consumption of goods and services, shelter and other basic needs of life”. The poverty and ill-health situation has grown grimmer for Africa and some Asian countries. The last decade has seen an emergence of new and a resurgence of old infections with a virulence and velocity hard to compare. East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have been at the receiving end of most the consequences of poverty and the ill health that result exacerbated by the HIV and AIDS pandemic. It has been suggested that attacking poverty is the answer to better health. Many agree with this notion of improving health. The million dollar question has however remained how to proceed with the war against poverty. Experts and scholars have done commendable work studying, defining and designing solutions for poverty. That much has been achieved in these lines, again there is no denying. Success in reducing poverty has however remained elusive, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. World Health Organisation (WHO) in its World Health Report for 2005, admits failure in improvement of most health indicators in sub-Saharan Africa and more so for Zambia.
Methods: The participatory action research (PAR) was conducted in Chikoti village in Luwingu area among 212 households, Kungu village in Kasama with 236 households, Mpepo village in Mpika with 220 households and Ilondola village with 360 households. The study investigated the relationship between poverty and ill-health and how the rural poor respond to this discourse.
Results: The communities demonstrated a clear understanding of their own environment and were able to define factors which make them vulnerable to poverty and inversely to poor health. The study communities were able to distinctly define their own poverty levels and identify the categories of community members into the poverty status that is: managing poor, moderately poor and the extremely poor according to their local conditions and in their own local language.
Conclusion: It is clear from the study findings that the rural communities do perceive poverty to affect all of the community members equally regardless of age or education levels. The study participants also demonstrated that they understood the vulnerability of women and children to poverty and its effects. It was also observed that poverty stricken communities often give preference to food than health, introducing ill-health due to negligence.