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FT: The rapid medical revolution in Africa faces old challenges



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The main causes of human death are no more viruses, bacteria or microbes that have been in places for thousands of years. For the first time in modern human history, the biggest killers in the world are noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, heart disease or stroke. It concerns all regions of the world, including Africa. This change is an unprecedented and unexpected success, writes the Financial Times.

Infectious diseases have not been the leading cause of death in Africa since 2011. By 2015, diseases such as dysentery, pneumonia, malaria or tuberculosis on the African continent accounted for 44% of all deaths. That number is still high, in most parts of the world, infectious diseases account for less than ten percent of the total number of deaths.

However, the rate at which the number of infection victims in Africa is declining is admirable. In recent decades, their numbers have fallen three to four times faster than in developed countries. Africa is undergoing an extraordinary and rapid medical revolution.

In 1990, 25% of the total number of deaths died in poor countries in diseases such as diabetes or cancer. By 2040 this proportion would be 80%.

The increase in the number of noncommunicable diseases is partly explained by the fact that people live long enough to develop the disease. Many people from poor countries still face such diseases later than people from developed countries. Heart disease, diabetes and other diseases, known as diseases of civilization, actually become diseases of the poor.

According to medical expert Thomas Bollyky, poor countries have to face the consequences of their success. That's because these countries are fighting infectious diseases with medical care from the international community. In developed countries, this was not the case. In US cities between 1900 and 1936, mortality decreased mainly due to water seepage and chlorination. Better hygiene, quarantine, and education had beneficial effects before effective drugs came along.

Poor countries achieve the same results more quickly, but often without the institutional changes that have swept the cities of the developed world. Deaths among children fell. But the result is often ill adults who live without adequate health care or job opportunities.

Poorer states would therefore have to spend more money on prevention and treatment of noncommunicable diseases. African elites often ignore the problem and seek care abroad. However, those who remain in these countries have, at best, very limited health care.

Africa is urbanizing at an astounding pace, but cities are often unprepared and overcrowded by sick people.

The reorientation towards the diseases of civilization must be in Africa and in foreign organizations. Cancer, upper respiratory tract disease, heart problems and diabetes account for 60% of the world's deaths. However, only one percent of all aid to developing countries is spent on health care for the treatment of noncommunicable diseases.

Poor countries must also take action against pollution and tobacco products. African governments should co-opt cigarette manufacturers and other promoters of unhealthy lifestyles.

FT: The rapid medical revolution in Africa faces old challenges

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