Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Gambia

| Article posted on October - 17 - 2008

The Gambia has been called “The Smiling Coast“. Indeed, the people have much to smile about. Old lessons about caring for one’s neighbor and family have not been lost as they have in the “more developed world.” Family ties mean something. People are not forced to struggle alone.

However, poverty is a significant and overwhelming problem. Many families must spend whatever dalasi they possess on food, clothing and other items necessary for survival. Often this leaves no money for medical care or medications, causing much hardship and unnecessary suffering.

The World Health Organization data on the Gambia is compelling. Currently, life expectancy at birth is a mere 56 years for men, 59 years for women, which is far removed from the longevity we have come to take for granted in our world.

While the situation was much more grave in 1973 when the  people could expect to live to an age of 33, on average, and while great strides have been made to improve health and well-being in the Gambia, much more can and must be done.

The World Health Report 2006 points out how “in this first decade of the 21st century, immense advances in human well-being coexist with extreme deprivation.” Fortunately, there are solutions, but these depend on the involvement of everyone. They must be based on global solidarity and united efforts across longitudes and latitudes.

The Gambia forms a narrow enclave into the Republic of Senegal with the Atlantic Ocean forming its western boundary. With a surface area of ~11,000 sq.km. and a population of ~1.5 million people, it represents one of the most populated regions in Africa while being ranked as one of the poorest countries by the World Health Organization.

The Gambia is sub-divided into five administrative districts:

Western, Lower River, Central River, Upper River, North Bank

The Western division is the most densely populated and also the site of most tourist “hot spots.” It consists of beautiful beaches, wonderful resorts (which the vast majority of Gambians would never be able to afford) and features the capital, Banjul, as well as several other larger cities such as Bakau, Brikama and Serekunda.

Services in this region are fairly good. Almost all private clinics, several government health centers as well as The Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital are located there. On the other hand, hardships medical and otherwise are most acutely felt in the regions further inland.

While many Gambians reside in the cities, where they can find greater opportunities, a person’s proximity to available services cannot guarantee that he or she is able to afford them. In addition, many urban workers support large families in the distant provinces who are utterly dependent on them, such that every dalasi earned or saved has to stretch for long distances and over many heads. “Luxuries” such as medical care, while representing a great and real concern to most Gambians, simply have to be put on hold in order to put food on the table.

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