Poverty and Health Facts | Compassion International

Health Facts
Get the facts about the health challenges that impoverished children and their families are facing.

health facts graphic

Poverty affects children in a variety of ways. One of the most dangerous symptoms of poverty is how it attacks a child's health. And one of the most effective ways to stop poverty from stealing the lives of children is to keep them healthy.

17,000 children die every day, mostly from preventable or treatable causes. — UNICEF

The following health facts give you a picture of some of the ways poverty harms children in need.

  • Children in sub-Saharan Africa are more than 15 times more likely to die before the age of five than children in developed regions. 1
  • Leading causes of death in under-five children are preterm birth complications, pneumonia, birth asphyxia, diarrhea and malaria. About 45 percent of all child deaths are linked to malnutrition. 1

A mother kisses her baby on the cheek

  • Diarrhea is among the top 10 leading causes of death, killing 1.5 million people in 2012. 2
  • Insufficient physical activity is one of the 10 leading risk factors for death worldwide. 3
  • The average Ebola virus disease case fatality rate is around 50 percent. 4
  • Based on 2010 data, the total global expenditure for health is approximately US$ 6.5 trillion. The total global expenditure for health per person per year is US$ 948. 5

The statistics and health facts pertaining to easily preventable diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis are among the most heart wrenching because their solution is so obvious.

  • About 3.2 billion people – almost half of the world’s population – are at risk of malaria. 6
  • Malaria is endemic in most tropical and subtropical regions. 7

A young African boy lies on his bed underneath a mosquito net

  • In 2015, 97 countries and territories had ongoing malaria transmission. 6
  • In 2015, sub-Saharan Africa was home to 89 percent of malaria cases and 91 percent of malaria deaths. 6
  • There were approximately 214 million cases of malaria in 2014 and an estimated 438,000 deaths. 6
  • More than two thirds (70 percent) of all malaria deaths are to children under 5. 6
  • Malaria claimed the lives of about 453,000 children in 2013. 8
Tuberculosis (TB)
  • Tuberculosis is a top infectious disease killer worldwide. Over 95 percent of tuberculosis cases and deaths are in developing countries.9
  • In 2014, 9.6 million people fell ill with tuberculosis and 1.5 million died from the disease. 9
  • In 2014, an estimated 1 million children became ill with tuberculosis and 140,000 children died of TB. 9
  • TB is a leading killer of HIV-positive people: in 2015 1 in 3 HIV deaths was due to TB. 9
  • Tuberculosis is among the top five causes of death for women aged 15 to 44. 9
  • About one-third of the world's population has latent TB (i.e., infected by TB bacteria but are not (yet) ill with the disease and cannot transmit the disease). 9
  • People with active TB can infect 10-15 other people through close contact over the course of a year. 9
Preterm births
  • Every year, an estimated 15 million babies are born preterm (before 37 completed weeks of gestation). 10
  • More than 60 percent of preterm births occur in Africa and South Asia. 10
  • Preterm birth complications are the leading cause of death among children under 5 years of age, responsible for nearly 1 million deaths in 2013. 10

A preterm baby grasps her mother's finger

  • Pneumonia is the leading infectious cause of death in children worldwide, accounting for 15 percent of all deaths of children under 5 years old. 11
  • Pneumonia killed an estimated 922,000 children under the age of five in 2015. 11
  • Immunization currently averts an estimated 2 to 3 million deaths every year. 12
  • An estimated 18.7 million infants worldwide miss out on basic vaccines. 12

A young Togolese boy receives a meningitis vaccine while other children wait in line

Oral health
  • Worldwide, 60—90 percent of school children and nearly 100 percent of adults have dental cavities. 13
  • Globally, about 30 percent of people aged 65–74 have no natural teeth. 13
How do the UN Sustainable Development Goals relate to Compassion?

several children look outside through a window

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) directly parallel what Compassion does. But when it comes to goals and implementation we sometimes take a different approach. This is a quick analysis of the SDGs and how they most closely match our work, along with ways they overlap and differ.


1 World Health Organization Media Centre Fact sheet N°178.Children: Reducing Mortality, September 2014.

2 World Health Organization Media Centre Fact sheet N°310. Top 10 Causes of Death, May 2014.

3 World Health Organization Media Centre Fact sheet N°385. Physical Activity, January 2015.

4 World Health Organization Media Centre Fact sheet N°103. Ebola Virus Disease, August 2015.

5 World Health Organization Media Centre Fact sheet N°319. Spending on Health, April 2012.

6 World Health Organization Media Centre Fact sheet N°94. Malaria, October 2015.

7 World Bank Group. 2015. Global Monitoring Report 2014/2015: Ending Poverty and Sharing Prosperity. Washington, DC: World Bank. doi: 10.1596/978-1-4648-0336-9. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO

8 World Bank Group. 2016. Global Monitoring Report 2015/2016: Development Goals in an Era of Demographic Change. Overview booklet. World Bank, Washington, DC. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO

9 World Health Organization Media Centre Fact sheet N°104. Tuberculosis, October 2015.

10 World Health Organization Media Centre Fact sheet N°363. Preterm Birth, November 2014.

11 World Health Organization Media Centre Fact sheet N°331. Pneumonia, November 2015.

12 World Health Organization Media Centre Fact sheet N°378. Immunization Coverage, September 2015.

13 World Health Organization Media Centre Fact sheet N°318. Oral Health, April 2012.