Public health resources in Africa have long been devoted to infectious diseases such as AIDS and malaria and, for women, reproductive health services. But while these services are vital, the health needs of a growing population of African women who are living longer are not being met, says Allan Hill, Andelot Professor of Demography at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).
In large African cities such as Accra, Ghana, where Hill with his Ghanaian counterparts has led a pioneering women’s health study for the past decade, women are having fewer children, living longer, and getting heavier. That presents new health challenges the current Ghanaian health system is not equipped to address, such as rising incidence of heart disease and other chronic diseases more characteristic of the Western world.
“The growing population of postmenopausal women in Ghana represents a major shift,” Hill said. Ghanaian women see their doctors primarily during pregnancies, and there has been very little thought devoted to addressing women’s health needs beyond reproduction, he said. “We are working with our colleagues in Ghana on identifying ways to address this gap, such as offering coverage for preventive services like cholesterol screening through the country’s health insurance system.”
Hill first witnessed the continent’s changing demographics while working in rural areas on children’s health and other projects. More people were moving out of villages to the cities and chronic disease was on the rise.