Healthcare provision in most parts of Africa is very challenging.
The continent has about 15% of the world’s population but 24% of its disease burden. Life expectancy is rising, partly because of better healthcare, including vaccination programmes, but also because of greater food security.
This indicates that some progress is being made, while greater life expectancy and rapidly rising populations mean that even more people require healthcare with each year that goes by. According to the World Bank, there were about 500,000 doctors, 1,250,000 nurses and 1,000,000 hospital beds in Africa in 2012, the year of the most recent continent-wide estimate.
Many more trained healthcare professionals complete their education and training every year but far too many of them find work in other parts of the world, as African governments effectively subsidise North American and European healthcare systems.
HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria remain the biggest problems but the mortality rate from all three of them is falling. At the same time, the incidence of non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease is increasing. The World Health Organisation has predicted that the death rate from cancer will double on the continent over the next 20–30 years, partly because smoking is becoming more popular.
Higher alcohol consumption will also probably result in a rise in an increased incidence of liver disease. African governments could act now to avoid many of the same problems that the rest of the world has experienced with non-communicable illnesses that are, to a large extent, avoidable. For example, taxation can play a big role in influencing tobacco and alcohol consumption patterns.