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The health of Africa


Countries in Africa, particularly in Sub-Sahara Africa, have to cope with a burden of disease, the severity of which has only increased in recent years as a result of the ever-spreading AIDS epidemic.

Apart from AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other poverty-related diseases, also diarrhoea, malnutrition, anemia and reproductive health problems are major causes of illness and death.


More than six million people die each year as a result of these three 'killer diseases', most of them in developing countries. The devastating impact this has on human and social capital is a major factor holding back the economic development of these countries. Research carried out by the World Bank leaves no doubt that these diseases contribute to sustaining the vicious circle of poverty in developing countries. At least 12 billion dollars of GNP are lost on the African continent each year as a result of malaria; AIDS reduces the growth of GNP by 0.3 to 1.5 percent per capita of the population. It has been calculated that the poorest households lose between 20 and 30 percent of their income through tuberculosis. All three diseases could be halted by protecting the population with vaccines, microbicides and other intervention technologies and by means of adequate treatment with medicines that are safe, effective and available in sufficient quantities and at a price that the population and governments of developing countries can afford.

If there is to be any perspective for economic stability, the population of Africa will have to be able to rely on the availability of sufficient effective and affordable remedies to prevail over AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, apart from all other neglected diseases that are ravaging this continent. Existing remedies against these diseases, if they exist, are either causing serious side-effects or are rapidly losing their effectiveness as the diseases become drug-resistant. Because of the lack of purchasing power in developing countries, the market is not interested in investing the vast sums of money needed for the research and development of new medicines and vaccines against these diseases. Public-private partnerships for product development can make a crucial contribution to the research and development of new medicines, vaccines, microbicides, diagnostic and other medical intervention technologies, specifically for the poverty-related public health problems of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other neglected diseases.

Poverty and neglected diseases
Although medically diverse, neglected tropical diseases share features that allow them to persist in conditions of poverty, where they cluster and frequently overlap. Approximately 1 billion people – one sixth of the world's population – suffer from one or more neglected tropical diseases. Conflict situations or natural disasters aggravate conditions that are conducive to the spread of these diseases.