14 Most Common Diseases in Africa
Africa, the second largest continent and by far one of the most naturally endowed piece of earth in the world, is home to a population of well over 1.2 billion people.
It is thus the second most populated continent after Asia.
Africa is a remarkable continent.
It is a wild and beautiful place, Africa.
There was the time when the continent was aptly labeled, ‘the white man’s grave’.
The reason is not farfetched.
Those were the days when the conquest and exploration of Africa by the Europeans first began.
Many of the early adventurers and fortune seekers to Africa suffered malignant disease attacks and lost their lives without hope of cure.
It is also a continent thrust in the jaws of poverty.
As its population swell by the decade, so does its poverty margin.
To put it plainly, much of the problems besetting Africa are rooted in poverty.
Today, thanks to the advent of modern scientific discoveries, many of the disease still rampant across the continent can be prevented, even cured.
However and very unfortunately, access to quality health care remains a mirage for many against the backdrop of a poverty-stricken populace.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 2012 data, about 9.6 million people in sub-Saharan Africa died as a result of diseases alone in that year.
Children are often the most susceptible and vulnerable to disease outbreaks.
Diseases have claimed more lives in Africa than armed conflicts.
The life expectancy of Africans is the lowest in the world.
While the infant and maternal mortality rate, though declining, remains very daunting when compared with those of other parts of the world.
A report compiled by World Atlas in recent years states that,
the number of lives claimed by illnesses over the last couple of years have been over a million death annually. As a result, average life expectancy for African men is 58 years while for women it is 61 years…The lowest compared to other continents.”
Furthhemore, the report goes in to say that, “High poverty level has made it difficult to access quality medication.”
Several authority researches conducted on Africa over the decades put the poverty index at over 40%.
This means that much of the people cannot afford basic amenities like clean water, decent homes and nourishment for their bodies.
Due to this extreme poverty rate, there is frequent disease outbreak.
Germs and bacteria thrive in unwholesome environments.
And when access to proper health care is lacking, the state of health of the people will remain in perpetual jeopardy.
This has been one of the bane of Africa over the years, a people wallowing between two extremes; gnashing poverty and virulent diseases.
In the war against illnesses and diseases, information is critical.
That is why we have package this incisive piece on the most common diseases in Africa.
It is not merely to enrich your knowledge, but to also cause you to take action from where you are.
14 Most Common Diseases in Africa
Following is a run down of top known diseases in Africa, in no particular order:
This has got to be the most popular disease in Africa today.
Not just because of its death toll but also because of the enormous information and media campaign that has been given it since its earliest outbreak in Africa several decades ago.
And even today, the HIV/AIDS pandemic continue to ravage much of sub-Saharan Africa, claiming lives in their thousands every year.
More than one million people were estimated to have died from complication arising from HIV/AIDS infection.
In the year under review, accounting for about 11.5% of all disease-related deaths that year.
HIV/AIDS is primarily a sexually-transmitted disease.
The virus causing the ailment is present in the blood, body fluid and semen of infected persons.
And is transmitted to others via sexual intercourse, shared unsterilized needles and other sharp objects, etc.
The best way to prevent this disease is by sexual piety.
Maintaining one sex partner and by ensuring sharp objects are sterilized before use.
Going for period HIV/AIDS screening is also important.
This is perhaps the most prevalent disease in Africa.
Treatment is relatively inexpensive, hence the tendency of many to take it for granted.
But make no mistake;
If taken lightly, handled with kid gloves, malaria can be very deadly.
It kills faster than most dreaded disease.
This is why, in spite of the availability of health care, malaria is still reputed to be one of the biggest killer diseases in Africa.
It accounts for over half a million death annually.
The malaria parasite is transmitted by the anopheles mosquito, and its ideal breeding grounds are watery environments, around stagnant waters and bushes.
Children are more prone to malaria infection with over 40% of children deaths attributed to the disease alone.
One of the reasons for the prevalence of mosquitoes and the high rate of malaria on the continent is because of the tropical climate which provides a suitable habitat for the breeding of mosquitoes.
You can obtain effective anti-malaria drugs from just about any drugstore in town. They are in expensive.
However, to prevent malaria is quite easy.
Ensure you keep your environment clean always.
Trim grasses and bushes around. Cover stagnant waters and fumigate your immediate environment as often as possible.
And when sick, ensure to get proper treatment.
Maybe the name doesn’t sound very scary.
But you should be concerned, even if not scared, by the dastardly reputation of this disease.
Indeed, it is one of the most deadly diseases in Africa.
It is a respiratory disease, highly contagious and spreads easily from person to person.
Pneumonia is transmitted by a bacterium known as pneumococcus, an otherwise harmless organism that may live in the body of a person without causing any ailment.
Most often, a person could carry these bacteria in his body and still remain healthy.
People with really strong immune system tend to keep pneumococcus under control for a long time.
The disease can only get lethal and triggered under poor hygiene and weak immunity.
Outbreak of pneumonia is frequent and up to a million people die every year due to infection.
The key to treating it is early diagnosis.
Pneumonia, as other respiratory disease, is airborne but transmission can occur through contaminated things like clothing, utensils and other simple items.
Prevention of pneumonia is by strict adherence to high personal hygiene.
Wash hands and sterilize items before handling them.
Avoiding contacts with sick persons is also vital.
One of the most notorious killer diseases to ever hit humanity, cholera claims hundreds of lives annually across Africa.
In the middle ages before the improvement in medical health care, cholera was an enigmatic ailment that spread like wild fire without hope of cure in sight.
Those infected with the disease back then were given up for dead even before they died.
The case is not so today, thanks to breakthrough in medicine. Still, cholera has not lost its horrific reputation.
Even though there is vaccine and cholera can be contained, yet it kills quickly and is highly contagious.
Cholera is water borne, transmitted through consumption of contaminated water.
Most rural areas across Africa with poor sanitary and toilet practices are more susceptible to cholera outbreak.
The germ causing this disease is present in the human waste
And often finds its way into drinking water in villages where the people go to streams for water, or where the drainage is poor and refuse are not disposed off properly.
The symptoms of the disease are diarrhea and vomiting.
It can be prevented by sticking to very hygienic standards.
Wash your hands after going to the toilet and wash food items with clean, uncontaminated water.
Most importantly, be sure of your source of water before drinking it.
5. Whooping Cough:
This is one of the most common and also most deadly disease in Africa.
It is also airborne and very communicable.
Infants and children under 5 years are at a greater risk of contracting this malignant cough that is responsible for scores of death annually across sub-Saharan Africa.
Symptoms of whooping cough include protracted and painful cough, and breathlessness, which may lead to death in severe cases.
The best preventive method against whooping cough is early immunization.
6. Ebola Virus Disease:
This disease has attained some notoriety over the years, mainly because of its virulent nature.
There is no known vaccine yet for the treatment of EVD. At best, there are numerous laboratory experiment ongoing and drugs are still at trial stages.
An estimated 11, 300 people died of EVD in the recent outbreak that occurred between 2014/2015, according to the WHO.
Ebola is a virulent disease, very lethal with a kill rate of 70%.
There have been cases of survivors, but most people who get Ebola will die from the disease.
The symptoms of Ebola are very familiar (headache, fever, weakness and joint ache, stomach pain and, in advance stages, bleeding) and may look like any other ailment at the onset.
So many have ignored it, passed it off as the regular flu, until it was too late.
Research indicates that the virus is carried by infected mammals, mostly bats and other ‘bush meat’, and spread to people who consume the meat of diseased animals.
It is also passed from an infected person to a healthy person by physical contact (body fluid).
To prevent Ebola, thankfully, is not very tedious.
Being sanitary minded is the key. Maintain proper hygiene.
Use disinfectant and keep your hands clean always.
Do not touch a sick person, unless you’re a health practitioner.
And even then, wear protective rubber gloves and clothing when handling infected persons.
Again, EVD is mercilessly contagious and unforgiving once it is full blown.
Syphilis is another very common disease across Africa.
It is communicable, passed from person to person through unprotected sexual intercourse.
Syphilis is quite rampant, arguably the most common STD in Africa.
Also, it requires extensive medication and prolonged use of antibiotics to cure.
This is because the bacteria causing the disease are quite resistant and tend to resurface even after years of being treated.
Syphilis can also impact negatively on the infant mortality rate as it is transmitted from an infected mother to her unborn baby.
This may lead to deformity or malformation of the foetus.
This disease is inherently fatal. Millions of people get infected each year while as many as 150 people die from the infection.
As earlier mentioned, syphilis is an STD.
So it goes without saying, that the primary prevention method is the old way: sexual responsibility. Avoid promiscuity and unsafe sex.
Of course, you’ve read up on tuberculosis in our other article.
Needless to say, it is quite widespread across sub-Saharan Africa, where it claims thousands of lives annually, according to report.
Although TB is present in other places, it is more pronounced in Africa.
In fact, reports says that 90% of all TB-related deaths globally happen in Africa.
TB is a respiratory track disease that attacks the lungs and other organs of the body as it progresses.
It is airborne and so communicable, easily transmitting from person to person.
The disease can spreads to others when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Tuberculosis is quite resilient, and may sometimes prove resistant to treatment. But is is surmountable.
It is easy to prevent tuberculosis once you adhere to proper sanitary conduct.
Basically, the rule is the same for a lot of communicable disease.
Again another common ailment in Africa, although treatment is also readily available and effective.
Tetanus is caused by a micro-organism known as clastridium retain.
It is very malignant and once it festers in a person, death is almost certain.
Tetanus typically makes its way into a person’s system by attacking open and untreated cut and bodily injuries.
Any small cut or wound in the skin is enough to let in tetanus.
The key therefore to keeping safe from this opportunistic disease is to ensure that wounds, bruises and injuries on our body are properly cleaned and disinfected to avoid contamination.
About 84,000 deaths occur each year in Africa due to tetanus infection.
Measles is another opportunistic disease that achieves its notoriety by mostly attacking infants and children under 5 years of age as a result of their weak immune system.
Early vaccination is the key to preventing measles.
Everyday, some 600 children die of measles in sub-Saharan Africa, even though the vaccination is available at many health care centers in rural communities across Africa.
Measles is airborne and contagious, spreading through such means as coughing and sneezing.
Symptoms of the disease are, high fever, cough, rash breakout, diarrhea.
11. Respiratory Track Infection:
These diseases are by far the top killers on the continent.
It collectively refers to a number of respiratory infections, including bronchitis, influenza, and pneumonia.
Annual estimated death toll from respiratory track infection is put at a staggering 4 million across Africa.
Children are also susceptible to respiratory track diseases.
In 2012 alone, diarrhea was responsible for some 600, 000 deaths in Africa, states the World Atlas report, making
it one of the biggest killer disease on the continent.
Diarrhea is a disease that typically kills its victims by dehydration.
Children who contract the disease vomit nonstop and then stool uncontrollably.
In the end, they are left weakened and thoroughly dehydrated.
Diarrhea is provoked by consuming contaminated water and food items.
The best way to prevent diarrhea is by maintaining proper hygiene.
Keep environment clean.
All wastes should be disposed off properly, food items covered and hands washed frequently.
Many homes in Africa, like elsewhere in the world, keep such pets like dogs and cats.
Since all mammals are the natural carriers and victims of the disease, rabies is quite popular in Africa.
Rabies is a viral disease that attacks and damages brain cells and tissues, which leads to dehydration for the rabid animal.
It has no cure. Death occurs in days.
In most areas, rabid animals are promptly put to death to prevent the disease from spreading.
Mostly, rabid animals tend to be fiercely aggressive, and will bite people and other animals randomly.
Hence spreading the virus to others.
According to WHO, most rabies-related deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.
Transmission and Prevention:
The only hope for anyone that may have been bitten by a rabid animal is to get vaccinated within the first few hours following the attack.
Once that is neglected and the virus festers, death is sure to follow shortly.
The disease is transmitted through the saliva or bite of an infected animal.
To avoid rabies, people are asked before hand to get their dogs vaccinated.
Periodically, many cities across sub-Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, experience the outbreak of meningitis.
The disease is often fatal and thousands die each year.
The last outbreak in Kano, northern Nigeria, claimed over 300 lives within a couple of months.
Meningitis typically afflict people by attacking the brain and spinal cord.
Sometimes, people suffering advanced stages of the disease tend to display hallucination and dementia.
Symptoms of this dreaded disease include fever, vomiting, reduced brain function and dementia mentioned above, as well as skin blisters and fervent headache.
What makes this disease very horrible, apart from the death toll, is that it may leave scars with survivors.
Some victims of meningitis have lost their sight to the disease, others their earing and will remain permanently deaf.
And others still, will be demented for life.
How Is It Transmitted?
Meningitis can be gotten from contaminated water, or by direct contact with a sick person. Also, it can be spread when people consume food items not properly washed.
So it goes without saying, to prevent meningitis, strive to maintain proper hygiene.
Wash your hand, fruits and veggies before consumption.
Avoiding direct contact with sick people is vital.
Go for medical help if you think you may have been exposed to the disease.
There are many other diseases in Africa, some not as widespread and deadly as those highlighted in this article.
But all of them deserve a measure of concern. And there is always the threat of disease outbreak.
It is important that we maintain standard hygienic practices and not expose ourselves to diseases that may be fatal.
Lack of adequate and quality primary health care institutions, poor hygiene and poverty are the major reasons for frequent disease outbreaks in Africa.
But with the right government intervention and partnership with foreign agencies, with active participation of communities, the scourge of diseases can be addressed.
You have an active part to play. Create a healthy environment around you.
Maintain proper hygiene. Report cases of disease to the nearest health centre quickly.
Do not take your health, and the health of others, for granted.
What other diseases affecting Africa do you Know? And how can it be prevented?
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Keep reading: How to maintain a healthy lifestyle: the ultimate guide