Vulnerable populations are effectively defined in the context of emergencies and disasters as members of the community with the special needs. These vulnerable populations have limited ability to successfully address, implement or be fully responsible for their own emergencies preparedness, response or recovery. This includes people whose life circumstances limit them from being able to respond to such emergencies. Disabled people should be able to access the same services as the other residents of their communities. Despite the fact that they may need additional facilities and care, the emergency management system must work to build provisions for these extra services into their plans.
With the stipulation of such strict guidelines to protect the vulnerable in society, it thus becomes important to be able to define vulnerability and the criteria used to measure vulnerability. The term ‘vulnerability’ is coined from the Latin term vulnerare which literally means to wound. In clinical research, the term vulnerable is normally used in reference to people who are not able to give informed and willful consent, or who are prone to coercion and could be forced. These may include children, pregnant women, immigrants, homeless, minor ethnic communities, prisoners, mentally handicapped persons, economically disadvantaged or educationally disadvantaged. The vulnerability faced by these groups can, however, be traced to a combination of the following three factors: health, functional or developmental status; economic status or geographic location; and inability to communicate.
Some individuals are vulnerable because the nature of their illnesses makes it hard to access treatment and the necessary care. A study carried out on elderly people with disabilities, functionally impaired, the frail elderly, and persons with bad health are less likely than the other population to report difficulties with access to the healthcare. These vulnerable groups may be especially prone to problems in using the complicated health care system. This may lead to discontinuity and poor of coordination among multiple health service providers, inability to obtain care from providers who have experience in treating their ailments. Furthermore, people with some ailments, like mental illness or HIV/AIDS, may face or fear unnecessary stigma that makes it problematic to receive quality health care.
Developmental status and a person’s age can also cause vulnerability. For instance, a child’s needs are markedly different from those of an adult. Their developmental and health needs require sound and sober policy-making. The elderly citizens also have special health care needs due to the increased incidence of illness and disability
Other individuals are rendered vulnerable as a result of their financial position and/or geographic locations. These factors can be hefty stumbling blocks to the attainment of adequate health care services. Poverty and lack of health insurance has been shown to not only impact on acquisition of health services, but, also increases the risk of poor health.
Vulnerability can sometimes be a result of inability to properly communicate with health service providers and other agents in the health care system. Difficulties in communication may be linked with the individual’s level of education or development, health condition, language or heritage differences, or physical and brain disability. Individuals who have communication problems may undergo problems in expressing their treatment preferences, obtaining health care services that are in line with their cultural practices, providing informed and willful consent, and finding health care providers who are empathic to their special anxieties, getting hitches to be resolved, and considered or complying with curative options.
The problems faced by the vulnerable population are further compounded by the lack of clear and correct data about their numbers, needs, location and other demographics. Furthermore, it is difficult to outline the criteria upon which an individual shall be classified as either vulnerable or not. In order to understand the problem of vulnerable populations in the society, it becomes tantamount to trace their origin and history.
The history of vulnerability can be traced back to the beginning of the twentieth century. Many kinds of circumstances can make people be vulnerable to poor health e.g inadequate education; exposure to toxic chemicals, poor housing, but the most prominent cause is poverty. The link between poverty and vulnerability has been clearly documented. For instance, at the beginning of the twentieth century, epidemics of yellow fever, typhoid and cholera swept through tenements and slum areas with deadly impact. This was especially so, since many white farmers and black from the south had not recovered economically from the effects of the civil war. Many researchers have forwarded various reasons to explain why poverty and vulnerability correlated. The correlation is undoubtedly the combined consequence of manifold factors such as material hardship, stress, poor nutrition, and lack of easy access to the health care.
The onset of industrialization and growth of industries in the early 20th century saw the first signs of vulnerability. The shift from craft production is small scale shops and mills to large scale plants was a chief feature; setting the background of poverty and vulnerability at the beginning of the twentieth century. Mechanization proceeded rapidly in the United States in the years after the Civil War fueled by innovation and advancement in science and technology. In a bid to cover the need for more industrial workers, factory managers and owners favored and sought large numbers of immigrants. The massive inflow of immigrants and slaves during this period led to high redundancy, worsening conditions in expanding urban slums, dangerous factory working environments, the rising frequency of violence between workers and the rise of multinational monopolies. Such conditions created what is today known as vulnerability.
Poverty was further worsened by the Great Depression of 1929, which caused serious market declines and plummeting of about three-quarters of the stock exchange market. During this period, lack of government spending caused downward spiral of stocks, rapid economic and social disintegration. As a result, over five thousand banks collapsed causing millions of people losing all their life savings.
With such a backdrop, it is easy to understand the problem faced chronically mentally ill people. They are a vulnerable population that undergoes a lot of trouble and is often forgotten or ignored in policy formulation. Chronically mentally ill people are those who, not by their own fault or that of their families, suffer from one or more maladies of the brain. This renders them unable to perceive situations as they are, and cannot adequately make decisions. Chronically mentally ill people are a vulnerable population that covers at least one percent of the American national population. Some of the common symptoms experienced by most mentally ill persons include, loss of touch with reality, confused thinking, impaired judgment, unstable emotions, extreme dependency, lack of motivation, reduced speech and interpersonal relationships, anger, self-preoccupation, depression, guilt, self-blame, impatience and demoralization.
The first step in aiding the vulnerable populations is to accept them and always consider their needs in policy formulation and implementation. The additional investment should be set apart for developing and supporting the effective health care models. More research and studies should be carried out in areas affecting the chronically mentally ill. Health care quality assessment should also be enforced and regulated to ensure the provision of better services to the most vulnerable individuals in the society. It is only by taking care of the vulnerable individuals in society that we can take pride in being civilized and a humanitarian nation.
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