Many real people in Africa didn't know it was Christmas, and will miss the New Year party

Ebola has hogged the headlines over the past year, but some other less-captured but deadlier diseases also deserve the rock star treatment too.

MUCH has been made of Band Aid 30’s “Do they know its Christmas” remake of the 1984-famine-inspired tune, this time round in support of the Ebola epidemic. But as the data shows, many more less-in-the-news-but-just-as-deadly-conditions rarely got  no rock star treatment, let alone any treatment at all, and have steadily fallen through gigantic cracks in the continent’s health system. For many of the victims, there will be no New Year parties either or hope of significant relief in 2015:

1. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 40.8% of African men aged 25 and over have either raised blood pressure, or are currently on medication for the condition. When this is standardised for age, this figure rises to 46.9%. Women, despite being in “a man’s world”, have lower prevalence—38.8% and an age-standardised 44.7% respectively. Additionally, more high-income men have the condition, but more low-income men are on medication. 

2. However, some 23.4% of women aged above 25 are estimated to have raised cholesterol, compared to 20.6% of men. Women in high-income groups are more afflicted—59.1%—as compared to 25.3% of low income women. A combination of high cholesterol and high blood pressure greatly increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

3. Air pollution is the least of Africa’s concerns, as this poll showed. But it should be: The majority of Africans—over 70% in some countries— use solid fuel for cooking. This includes wood, coal, animal dung and charcoal. And it is killing them, right inside their houses: Some 581,300 Africans died from household air pollution in 2012, half of them children aged under 5. Nearly ten times more fatal than Ebola.

4. In  Ethiopia, just 26.3% of rural women accessed antenatal care in the five years preceding WHO data collated in 2011, compared to 76% of urban women - the least of all African countries surveyed, with Chad the next nearest at 33.8%. 

The figure is even lower when the time frame is shrunk to three years—declining to 26.1%. Of note is that antenatal care is the one indicator that North African countries appear to substantially lag sub-Saharan Africa.

5. Only 17.8% of one-year-old male children in Central African Republic (CAR) are fully immunised, UN data showed as at 2010, the lowest coverage of any country globally (Somalia had a 9.2% coverage for female one-year-olds, and 13.8% for males, but its last survey was done in 2006). As a result, over a million infants die every year from preventable diseases such as tetanus and whooping cough.

6. There are only 0.8 mammography units per million females aged between 50—69 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as at 2010. In comparison the rich European city-state of Monaco has 651 units for the same indicator. The DRC has also only 0.01 radiotherapy units for every million of the population. Monaco makes do with 26 radiotherapy units per million.

7. Sub-Saharan Africa had at 2012 some 690 million Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs), a measure of total disease burden including in terms of disability and early-death, the vast majority from communicable diseases, but with non-communicable diseases such as cancers and mental cardiovascular conditions also increasing, as this study in medical journal Lancet showed.

8. Some 37.7 million, or a prevalence of 24.9%, of African children were underweight, well above the global prevalence average of 15% and only second to South East Asia. The prevalence of those overweight is projected to rise to 6.5 % in 2015, from 6.3%, or 11 million, in 2013.

9. Some 36.6% of females aged between 15-69 in low and middle income countries in Africa were subjected to violence by an intimate partner—be they a current or former spouse or partner. On disaggregation, central Africa had the highest prevalence of such violence, at 65.6%—also the highest globally. Much of this goes unreported.   

10. Some 5.6 million people are estimated to be in modern slavery in sub-Saharan Africa, or 15.67% of 35.8 million globally, as captured by the Global Slavery Index 2013. In Mauritania slaves constitute 4% of the population, and over 1% of the populations in DRC, Sudan, the Central Africa Republic and the Republic of the Congo.

11. Between 2008 and 2011 the treatment success rate in Africa for extremely drug-resistant (XDR) tuberculosis fell from 27% to 16%. That of multidrug-resistant (MDR) tuberculosis fell from 50% in 2008 to 47% in 2011. The treatment outlook for a disease that can be spread even by singing continues to be bleak, not to add the cost.

12. Only 34% of girls of official school going age were enrolled in primary school in Eritrea in 2011, according to UNESCO data.  Some 39,9% of girls of official school going age were enrolled in primary school in Liberia, as at 2011.  In 1999 the DRC had only a 32.2% enrollment rate. Studies clearly show the link between a country’s growth, and taking a child to school.

13. According to WHO, one in ten men report being sexually abused as children in Africa, and one in 17 older people reported being abused in the past month, even as gains have been commendably made in highlighting the horrors of the rape of African women.  

14. Some 3.1% of people in sub-Saharan Africa are estimated to be living with severe disability, and when combined with moderate disability, rises to 15.4%. The challenges for them in Africa are enormous, from everyday issues such as access to public facilities, to human rights issues such as discrimination.


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