Chronic diseases and health promotion

Overview - Preventing chronic diseases: a vital investment

Misunderstanding #8. Story of Roberto Severino

MISUNDERSTANDING #8: chronic diseases mainly affect rich people

Many people think that chronic diseases mainly affect rich people. The truth is that in all but the least developed countries of the world, poor people are much more likely than the wealthy to develop chronic diseases, and everywhere are more likely to die as a result. Moreover, chronic diseases cause substantial financial burden, and can push individuals and households into poverty.

Facing illness and deepening poverty: Roberto Severino, 52 years old, Brazil (stroke)

Roberto Severino Campos, 52 years old, lives in a shanty town in the outskirts of São Paulo, Brazil, with his seven children and 16 grandchildren. Roberto never paid attention to his high blood pressure, nor to his drinking and smoking habits. "He was so stubborn," his 31-year-old daughter Noemia recalls, "that we couldn't talk about his health". Roberto had his first stroke six years ago at the age of 46 – it paralysed his legs. He then lost his ability to speak after two consecutive strokes four years later. Roberto used to work as a public transport agent, but now depends entirely on his family to survive.

Since Roberto's first stroke, his wife has been working long hours as a cleaner to earn money for the family. Their eldest son is also helping with expenses. Much of the family's income is used to buy the special diapers that Roberto needs. "Fortunately his medication and check-ups are free of charge but sometimes we just don't have the money for the bus to take us to the local medical centre," Noemia continues.

Roberto Severino Campos and family
People who are already poor are the most likely to suffer financially from chronic diseases

But the burden is even greater: this family not only lost its breadwinner, but also a devoted father and grandfather, in whom each family member could confide. Roberto is now trapped in his own body and always needs someone to feed him and see to his most basic needs. Noemia carries him in and out of the house so he can take a breath of air from time to time. "We all wish we could get him a wheelchair," she says. Noemia and four of her brothers and sisters also suffer from high blood pressure.