No continent has been harder hit than Africa when it comes to disease outbreak. Just this year alone, there has been cholera in Kenya and Zambia, the Marburg virus in Uganda and Kenya, and plague in Madagascar. But the biggest killers in Africa are Malaria, HIV/Aids, Schistosomiasis and diarrheal diseases. All of these diseases can be prevented with the right knowledge and precautions and access to adequate healthcare.
Malaria is caused by parasites in the blood and comes from infected mosquitos which are endemic to the continent. This disease can be fatal, with an estimated 429,000 deaths recorded in the year 2015. Although some may experience only mild malaria symptoms, if left untreated it can quickly escalate and turn deadly. Medicine is available to treat the disease, but the best course of action is prevention. Preventative measures include providing mosquito nets to families and draining out breeding grounds where mosquitoes are likely to lay eggs in the water.
HIV/Aids in Africa
This is a sexually transmitted disease that kills more than 6,000 people per day in African countries. This is more than any other killer (including war, natural disasters or famine) and the worst affected countries are Swaziland, Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa (where up to 25% of the population are affected).
The disease slowly attacks the immune system and stops the body’s ability to fight off illness, killing its victims over a long period of time. HIV puts a strain on the health system whilst killing a large number of adults in society. This not only affects national productivity but also causes a high number of child orphans. Therefore, HIV prevention programmes are essential for improving public health and development.
Research shows that diarrhea accounts for 1 in 9 child deaths worldwide, yet most diarrheal diseases are preventable. Diarrhea is caused by bacteria and the three main causes are food contamination, water contamination or person to person contact. The best way to prevent the spread of diarrheal illness is through education on cleanliness and hygiene.
This interesting graphic on hand hygiene shows the importance of washing hands and having good personal hygiene.
Schistosomiasis is caused by parasitic worms and people can be infected when exposed to infected water. It is most common in the tropical and subtropical parts of Africa, and more than 200 million people were in need of treatment for the disease in 2016 (according to the World Health Organisation). Less than a million of those were able to receive treatment.
In order to prevent Schistosomiasis, a vaccine development strategy is required. Although there is medicine available to treat the disease, it cannot help with re-infection.