KEY TAKEAWAYS
  • The disease burden in sub-Saharan Africa is worse, and more fatal, than anywhere else in the world.
  • Malaria, diarrhea, HIV/AIDS, and low respiratory infections are to blame for nearly 90% of the region’s disease burden.
  • However, due to lifestyle changes over the last decade, chronic afflictions like heart diseases, cancer, and diabetes have greatly increased as well.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s worst performing region by number of disability-adjusted life years — or DALYs — one DALY representing one lost year of healthy life. In sub-Saharan Africa, disease burden ranges from about 40,000 to 70,000 DALYs per 100,000 individuals.

Now contrast this with most of Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East — and even Central Asia and North Africa — where disease burden ranges from a mere 10,000 to 30,000 DALYs per 100,000 individuals. Quite a contrast.

In the poorest one-fifth of sub-Saharan African countries, the four most common diseases are malaria, diarrhea, HIV/AIDS, and low respiratory infections such as pneumonia. Altogether, these account for about 60% of the total number of DALYs.

However, even in these countries, chronic diseases are becoming a big problem. Cardiovascular diseases have increased from 3.5% to 4.8% of the share of total disease; cancers from 1.9% to 3.3% and diabetes; and blood and endocrine diseases from 2.1% to 3.2% — all in the last decade.

In Kenya, for example, cancer is now the third leading cause of death. Sub-Saharan Africa also has the highest rates of high blood pressure in the world, which is particularly worrying as it is the biggest cause of death worldwide due to links with heart failure and strokes.

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