DAKAR, SENEGAL — The World Health Organization says Africans are living longer and healthier lives. But the WHO warns that that millions on the continent still face the challenge of chronic diseases.
News of the uptick came in Dakar this week where WHO representatives met with officials from 47 African countries.
Healthy life expectancy on the continent rose from 44.4 years at the turn of the century to 53.8 years in 2015. Overall life expectancy climbed from 50.8 years to 61.2.
Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said that two factors were mostly responsible for the change.
“What produced this result is a huge increase in access to treatment [of] HIV-AIDS, and in the better prevention and management of malaria,” Moeti said.
But the WHO says the type of disease that most commonly affects Africans is also changing.
While the number of deaths from diarrheal disease, respiratory infections, and HIV is falling, chronic conditions – such as cancer and heart disease – are claiming more lives.
Death rates from non-communicable diseases have remained steady since 2000 while the other top ten causes of mortality in Africa have fallen by 40 percent.
The WHO says health services in Africa have been slow to adapt to the new health challenges.
Humphrey Karamagi, sustainable development goal coordinator for the WHO, says the health needs of African youth are too often overlooked.
“The kind of health challenges that adolescents face are quite different from what we have been used to responding to – drug use, adolescent obesity and so on.”
Many African health officials and experts point to a lack of funding, but Stanley Okolo, head of the West African Health Organization, says that is overly simplistic.
“There is health, which is an issue in terms of investment and health funding. But there is also an issue in terms of health systems and how you can deliver better value for the money you have. And both have to be tackled simultaneously,” Okolo said.
African nations spend an average 40 percent of their health budgets on medical products, while barely a fifth goes to medical staff and infrastructure.
Health officials from Kenya, Nigeria and Cabo Verde say they are responding to the rise in non-communicable diseases by focusing on prevention and promoting healthy lifestyles.