diarrheal disease in sub-saharan africaEvery year, millions of children under the age of 5 die. Of those children, almost 40% come from Africa. The chance of death for a child living in Africa is seven times higher than that of a child in Europe. This marks the need for improved medical care and foreign aid, especially because many of these deaths are caused by diarrheal diseases. Diarrheal diseases are the second highest cause of death around the world, with over 1.5 million deaths each year. While any country’s children can be susceptible to this illness, developing countries have a marked disadvantage. Many of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where the disease is prevalent, don’t have access to proper sanitation, clean water or viable medical care. Here are five facts about diarrheal diseases in sub-Saharan Africa.

5 Facts About Diarrheal Diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa

  1. Mortality varies greatly by region. There is a higher prevalence of diarrheal diseases in sub-Saharan Africa, but especially in impoverished nations. Additionally, within sub-Saharan Africa, certain countries have much higher mortality rates than others due to these diseases. More than half of the global deaths that occurred in 2015 due to diarrheal diseases came from just 55 African provinces or states out of the total 782 that exist.
  2. The problem is partially economic. Diarrheal diseases don’t only impact the health of these countries’ citizens, but they also take a massive toll on the economy. An estimated 12% of governmental budgets go toward treating these diseases in some countries. Moreover, the World Bank estimates that almost 10% of these nations’ total GDP goes toward the treatment of these health issues. Individual members of each country also feel the monetary blow of obtaining treatment. In many of these countries, the salary of the average citizen is around $1.00 a day. One Kenyan mother named Evalyne was unable to save her son from a diarrheal disease because she couldn’t afford the $0.25 needed for oral rehydration therapy.
  3. There are more victims of these diseases than just children. A lot of the information about diarrheal diseases in sub-Saharan Africa focuses on children under the age of five. However, people over the age of 70 are also very susceptible to diarrheal diseases. The demographics of these two groups are unique. Most children die from diarrheal diseases in Chad, the Central African Republic and Niger. Nevertheless, most elderly people die from diarrheal disease in Kenya, the Central African Republic and India. The differences don’t end there. Most children who contract a diarrheal disease are plagued by the rotavirus, but the elderly have proven to be most prone to another virus named shigella.
  4. The diseases are treatable and even preventable with the right precautions. There are many precautions that can be taken to avoid catching diarrheal diseases in sub-Saharan Africa. One of the most important preventative actions is to do everything possible to consume clean water. Around the world, 40% of the population doesn’t have easy access to adequate sanitation. Many children and adults don’t have soap to wash their hands with after using the bathroom, and oftentimes, the water they use is contaminated. Washing one’s hands and working to improve local water supplies can drastically improve one’s chances against diarrheal diseases. Treating citizens with supplements like zinc and vitamin A can also lessen the severity of diarrheal episodes. Other than supplements and better water, oral rehydration therapy is a great way to treat the illness. Families can use oral rehydration at home by combining salt, sugar and clean water to prevent crippling dehydration. Another potential solution is a rotavirus vaccine.
  5. Education and competition can change the future. In some countries, access to clean water and proper sanitation seems impossible. However, providing communities with the resources and knowledge of how to improve sanitation and lower the risk of diseases has demonstrated that change is possible. In Cameroon, the World Wildlife Fund partnered with Johnson and Johnson to provide training and resources to the members of various communities. This helped them build more sanitary bathrooms and create new and viable water sources. One reason that these programs were so successful is that they created competitions among villages. This became a friendly way of motivating each other toward success.

Diarrheal diseases in sub-Saharan Africa continue to plague areas without clean water or access to healthcare. However, as time goes on, more and more programs and organizations aid in the control of these illnesses. For example, since 2018, ROTAVAC, a rotavirus vaccine, was prequalified by the World Health Organization for use in Ghana. This qualification is specifically focused on providing vaccines to those in countries without easy access to vaccination. Ghana is now the second country in Africa to place ROTAVAC as part of its program to immunize citizens against diarrheal disease. Doing this raises awareness across regions about a future where disease prevention is all the more possible.

Lucia Kenig-Ziesler
Photo: Flickr