Ducor Sports Live Blog :Can a Young African Population Defy the Odds and Live a Long, Healthy Life?

UPDATED June 19, 2019 03:07 pm .

Francis Cordor
June 19, 2019 03:07 pm

Being born in Africa is risky in and of itself. As many as 110 babies out of 1,000 won’t survive birth. For those who do, childhood brings its own risks. Diseases the rest of the world have largely eradicated, like measles, polio, and malaria, continue to plague the continent. Other deadly diseases such as HIV / AIDS and Ebola affect Africa more so than any other continent.

In addition, famine, civil wars, violence, extreme poverty, and poor sanitation work against Africans, resulting in the world’s lowest life expectancies. According to WHO 2015 life expectancy data, Sierra Leone, for example, had an average life expectancy of just 45.99 years. To put that number in perspective, Canada’s life expectancy is 82.18.

In most sub-Saharan countries, more than 40 percent of the population is under age 15. These kids face the same dreadful risks as those who came before them along with a wave of social, technological, and cultural changes currently sweeping the continent. According to WHO’s The Health of the People: What Works report, “Social, political and economic upheavals, lack of job opportunities, and failure to remain in school are serious challenges for young people in the Region, limiting their choices and leading to emotional distress, conflict, a sense of powerlessness, and risk-taking behavior.”

Clearly, the odds are stacked against young people in Africa. However, the What Works report does a good job of shining a light on just that, what works. For young people specifically, here’s what WHO says works:

  • Youth-friendly health care services focused on HIV prevention and birth control
  • HPV vaccines to prevent cervical cancer

Both are seen as entryways toward tackling other health care issues such as smoking and drinking alcohol.

A program launched in Zimbabwe in 2009 to deliver youth-friendly health services reported several positive outcomes within three years of operation:

  • A reduction in pregnancies (from 21 in 2009 to just 2 in 2011)
  • A reduction in unsafe abortions (from 5 in 2009 to 1 in 2011)
  • An increase in the number of youths who began using the service

As African youths turn into African men and women, they face additional challenges. Some of the biggest health risks for women are HIV / AIDs, pregnancy, and childbirth. For men, chronic diseases, communicable diseases, traffic accidents, HIV, poor diets, alcohol abuse, violence, and occupational hazards are all common causes of death or disability.

So, what works? Family planning and the removal of user fees for maternity services in 24 countries have contributed to a significant decline in maternal mortality rates in Africa. Meanwhile, the use of antiretroviral therapy has increased dramatically (from 34 percent in 2009 to more than 80 percent in a dozen countries as of 2012) for pregnant women with HIV. These improvements lead to healthier babies and mothers and fewer infant and maternal deaths.

For men’s health, the report focuses mostly on preventing violence, condom use, and improving access to health care. It notes that very little attention is being paid to other health risk factors such as high fat, high sugar, and high salt diets, sedentary lifestyles, or tobacco use. These lifestyle issues, which well developed countries continue to struggle with, contribute to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Huge gains in the fight against HIV, malaria, maternal mortality, and other health issues affecting Africa have been made in recent years. Couple that with a young population that is currently gaining access to youth-friendly health services, global technologies, and presumably better information, the odds are definitely improving.

What do you think? Is the health outlook for the young African population improving?


Featured Photo: Courtesy of WHO–Health Systems in Africa: Community Perceptions and Perspectives

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