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Health Challenges in Africa

News   •   Mar 30, 2016 09:23 UTC

A White Paper issued in connection with the Kuwait-sponsored AL-SUMAIT PRIZE initiative studies the health challenges faced by the estimated 1.13 billion people currently living in the 53 countries of Africa, the worlds’ second largest continent.

Noting the United Nations predicts that the continent’s population will double by 2050, the AL-SUMAIT White Paper refers to UN estimates that Africa’s population in the last 30 years has doubled overall and tripled in urban areas, a pace of growth that has exacerbated nutrition and health disorders.

Some 20 of 34 of the countries with the world’s highest burdens of malnutrition (accounting for 90% of the global burden), the lowest rates of life expectancy, and the highest death rates from communicable or infectious diseases are found in Africa. For all the progress that has been made in recent decades to tackle poverty across Africa, a reality is that the lives of tens of millions of Africans remain marred by poverty, hunger, poor education and ill health.

The White Paper also notes that from a macro perspective, Africa cannot be described as a healthy continent, despite success stories where individual countries have achieved substantial healthcare success for their citizens. Nonetheless, the average lifespan of Africans is 14 years less than an average world citizen and the mortality rate for children younger than five years is more than double the world average, according to a KPMG reporting citing WHO and UN statistics*.

The World Health Organisations attributes almost two-thirds of deaths in Africa to communicable diseases, maternal and perinatal conditions and nutritional deficiencies. Just 28% of Africa’s deaths are caused by non-communicable conditions compared to a global figure of 64%.

Not all the news is bad, however. The AL-SUMAIT White Paper says huge strides are being achieved in bringing improved healthcare to Africa with more and more people receiving life-saving treatment. For example, the number of HIV-positive people on antiretroviral medicines increased eight-fold, from 100,000 in December 2003 to 810,000 in December 2005 and then increased by over 100% to almost 2 million in 2015.

In addition, healthcare science has evolved in leaps and bounds thanks to the efforts of those like the Gates Foundation and nations like Kuwait. Today there are smarter, cheaper and more effective HIV therapies available,  and annual retroviral therapy costs that were costing up to $100,000 in 2000 have now dropped to close to $100 or below. The result is significant progress on the war on HIV in Africa with the death rate falling by 1/3 in the past six years.

The White Paper also notes how there is a new force today in the drive to improve healthcare in Africa – a powerful initiative conceived by by the Amir of the State of Kuwait, H.H. Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. Launched in December 2015, Kuwait's Al-Sumait Prize will be awarded annually to the best international research or development initiative that is deemed to contribute significantly to solve major development challenges facing African nations, in particular the least developing countries in the fields of Food Security, Health and Education.