Top 10 Diseases in Africa – Most Deadly


For many people especially those in the western world, Africa is synonymous with diseases, wars, conflicts and famine. While Africa cannot agree to be synonymous with such claims, the continent cannot escape the fact that within the confines of its territory lies some of the most deadly diseases that have claimed more lives in history than war and famine put together. Every continent has diseases that are predominant in them and is the same for Africa. Most of the diseases in Africa are such that can be completely prevented by simple measures starting with proper education and personal hygiene. In most cases, these diseases in Africa affect women and children which form the most vulnerable demographic class. In this article, we explore the 10 most deadly diseases in Africa which has claimed the lives of many.

10. Syphilis

Image Credit - Herbert L. Fred, MD, and Hendrik A. van Dijk
Image Credit – Herbert L. Fred, MD, and Hendrik A. van Dijk

Syphilis is arguably one of the most killer diseases in Africa. The rash/boil causing plague is responsible for the infection of up to 12.2 million people in the world every year with a quarter of these cases occurring in Africa due to poor sexual health education. On the average, there 157,000 people lose their life to syphilis every year and according to World Health Organization, infection rates in major African cities of Zambia; an east African country and Cameroon; a country in the Central Africa were reported to be as high as 10% and 6% in both genders respectively and studies done in Madagascar suggested that infection rates may be up to 30%. The disease is transmitted through contact with body fluids, blood and blood products. It is also known to be transmitted from mother to child. Apart from Africa, Syphilis is also prevalent in Southeast Asia and south America.

9.  Meningitis


Meningitis is one of the killer diseases in Africa and the world at large. One unpleasant thing about this disease is that it is capable of reducing the quality of life even after recovery. Meningitis is a disease that is mostly prevalent in the northern and central parts of Africa and is usually seasonal; occurring mostly between December and June during the dry season. More than 1 million people get infected by some form of meningitis every year resulting in 174,000 deaths every year. A typical infection involves the covering of the brain and spinal cord leading to swelling of these tissues. Meningitis has a high mortality rate such that even with early diagnosis and treatment, up to 5 to 10% of affected individuals still end up dead and a higher 10 to 20% of survivors suffer permanent brain damage and some form of hearing impairment or learning disability. The prevalence of Meningitis can easily be reduced with adequate vaccination and prophylaxis for those who may be exposed.

8. Tetanus


Tetanus is a disease of carelessness and negligence. It is ranked among the top ted most deadly diseases in Africa because even though it affects less number of people, it leaves fewer survivors. The number of new cases has dropped from 800,000 to about 500,000 every year within the past decade but it claims almost half of those it affects (up to 214,000 deaths) every year. Tetanus is ubiquitous and can easily infect an individual when there is a breach in the first layer of barrier against diseases – the skin and mucous membranes. Sometimes, a breach caused by a small cut or wound can get contaminated by clostridium tetani (the micro-organism that causes tetanus) with the disease manifesting several days after the contamination (usually 3 to 21 days after). Sub-saharan African countries record about 84,000 deaths on a yearly basis. Neonatal tetanus is common in many developing countries especially in African countries and those in South East Asia and is responsible for about 14% (215,000) of all neonatal deaths and it is worthy of note that since WHO called for global elimination of tetanus in 1989, deaths from neo-natal tetanus have decreased from 800,000.

7. Whooping cough (Pertussis)


Whooping cough is the 7th most deadly disease in Africa. There are between 20 and 40 million diagnosed cases of Pertussis every year which is responsible for killing 200,000 to 300,000 die each year most of whom are infants and children under 5 years. Whooping cough is a highly contagious disease often takes 7 to 14 days for an established infection to be treated. A typical manifestation is a protracted cough with breathlessness resulting in a characteristic whoop sound. More than 90% of whooping cough occur in developing countries of Africa and can easily be prevented by a simple immunization.

6. Measles


Measles is a disease that has gained some reputable degree of popularity because of its ability to spread like wild-fire during outbreaks. The deadly disease claims some 530,000 lives on a yearly basis after infecting more than 30 million people each year (usually of infants and children under 5 years of age). This large number translates to 1,400 people who die from measles every day with almost 50% of deaths occurring in Africa (242,000 deaths). All is not gloomy however as measles has seen a drastic reduction since vaccination became more readily available however, the challenge of maintaining the cold chain and reaching the villages in the hinterlands is still a challenge in most developing countries of Africa.  A typical measles infection is airborne, spreads by coughing and sneezing and usually affects malnourished children. It is highly contagious and common symptoms include high-grade fever, cough, maculo-papular rash with associated diarrhea, pneumonia, and ear infections as common complications.

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