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What Are the Most Deadly Diseases in Africa?

By Ray Hawk
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Diseases in Africa that are widespread are in large part nothing new, and have been plaguing humanity worldwide since the dawn of civilization. Among the infectious diseases in Africa, one that tops the list is tuberculosis with 1,700,000 people dying from it in 2009 globally and more of these in Africa than anywhere else. Where disease and poverty go hand in hand, lower respiratory infections such as pneumonia, and other diseases such as diarrhea and malaria kill large numbers of people due to contaminated air, water, and lack of control over the mosquito population. Rounding out the top five widespread African diseases is HIV/AIDS, which may be the most preventable of the group.

The World Health Organization estimated in 1999 that 90% of all infectious disease deaths around the world were a result of just six types of infection, and resulted in 50% of all premature human deaths in children and young adults. These diseases included: pneumonia, tuberculosis, chronic diarrhea, malaria, measles, and AIDS. The top three of these that have received widespread global funding to curtail diseases in Africa are AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. A worldwide Global Fund of $3,000,000,000 US Dollars (USD) was set up to combat these three diseases as of 2002 on the African continent.

Despite such international efforts, the Fund is seen as lacking in resources for controlling diseases in Africa. This is because half of the HIV-infected in the world reside in African nations, and figures like the fact that one person dies from malaria in Tanzania every five minutes are hard to manage by any organization regardless of its size and scope. Even though $400,000,000 USD from the Fund has been earmarked for treatment of Tanzanians suffering from AIDS, it is seen as largely inadequate in addressing the problem or containing it.

Worldwide, 1,800,000 people die from AIDS every year. Estimates for Sub-Saharan Africa are that 5% of the population is infected with HIV, or 22,500,000 people, with 1,300,000 dying from it there each year. Concerning malaria, as of 2008, 247,000,000 people were infected with the disease, and the overwhelming bulk of these at 212,000,000 were residents of African nations. Deaths from malaria as of 2008 were estimated at 881,000 globally, with 801,000, or 91%, coming from Africa.

Where contaminated living conditions such as polluted water lead to chronic diarrhea, it is responsible for one out of every five deaths of a child worldwide. As of 2011, 2,200,000 children die from diarrhea and diseases related to it each year, with 80% of these being deaths of children under the age of two. As African diseases go, it is responsible for about 8% of all deaths on the continent every year.

Lower respiratory infections such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and bronchiolitis kill an estimated 4,200,000 people globally every year as of 2009. Pneumonia is the cause for 90% of all lower respiratory infections worldwide, and it affects developed nations as well, with about 1% of the population in the UK contracting it every year and 40,000 to 70,000 Americans dying from it. In terms of diseases in Africa killing children, however, pneumonia takes the lives of 800,000 annually.

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Discussion Comments
By umbra21 — On Apr 01, 2014

@bythewell - It's easy to say that, but disease contributes to poverty as well. Malaria, for example, completely saps all your strength for large periods of time. It's impossible to work with a high fever and huge portions of the population in some countries have chronic malaria. So you end up with an economy that is going to be stunted by a single disease.

If you can find a cheap way to get rid of malaria, that makes it easier to help get rid of the poverty as well.

By bythewell — On Mar 31, 2014

@clintflint - The worst disease is poverty. The only reason that malaria is so prevalent in Africa and not in Florida or California where there are similar weather patterns, is because of poverty.

The same goes with tuberculosis. People think that it spreads because of close contact but it actually doesn't spread easily that way.

It does, however, spread in milk from infected cattle. But you can hardly tell people who are facing extreme poverty that they can't keep their cows, which seem, on the surface, to be perfectly all right.

AIDS is often spread through ignorance or an inability to afford protection. I mean, we've known for a while now how to make it almost completely noncontagious through medication, but without money, you don't have a chance to get put on those meds.

As soon as you solve the problem of poverty, you solve all these other problems as well.

By clintflint — On Mar 30, 2014

There have been quite a few triumphs out of Africa as well though. They have almost completely eradicated Guinea worm now, which is amazing. The best thing is, once it's gone, it should be gone forever, because it only lives in human hosts. I think they find fewer than a hundred cases per year now in only a couple of countries.

People never hear about the good things that happen in Africa for some reason. It is awful that there are so many people suffering, particularly from preventable diseases, but there is hope as well. We can overcome this.

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