The triple scourges of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria pose the greatest threats to the health of the African people, according to LuÃs Gomes Sambo, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Africa. Sambo presented a broad overview of Africa’s health status in his Nov. 14 lecture, “Africa’s Health – Striving to Achieve the Highest Possible Level of Health.” The lecture was part of the World Health Forum Series at Harvard Medical School.
The African region of the World Health Organization (WHO) is composed of 46 African countries, primarily in the sub-Saharan region. These countries are populated by 718 million people and their economies are among the poorest in the world.
In his lecture, Sambo provided a brief description of the African region, the critical health challenges facing the region, and the key priorities.
The disease burden on the region’s people is onerous, making economic and political progress difficult. “AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria are the three diseases responsible for most of the morbidity and mortality in the region,” said Sambo. According to Jack Chow, WHO’s special envoy of the director-general, who introduced Sambo’s talk, these three diseases are responsible for 6 million deaths per year in Africa.
Within the WHO African region, about 25.5 million people are infected with HIV. Local and international intervention efforts have been successful within some localities, but on the whole, according to Sambo, “the prevention efforts have not been effective in many countries and the incidence is still increasing.” In particular among the younger population and among females, the HIV/AIDS prevention information that has been made available “has not produced the expected results and we need to do more in terms of prevention of HIV/AIDS.”
Looking at HIV prevalence trends among pregnant women, Sambo showed that the prevalence is increasing at dramatic rates among Southern African populations. The prevalence among Eastern and Western African countries is actually in the decline, while the central African regions remain stable. “We have some positive development in a limited number of countries,” said Sambo, “we will concentrate our efforts to study and learn the lessons that could be beneficial to other countries where the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is still on the increase.”