It’s the plague!

By Kirsten Mawdsley

 Three killer diseases that were considered under control are resurging in the developing world, at a speed difficult for most countries to address without outside assistance. It has been less than 10 years since most countries gave beaming reports as to how malaria, polio and tuberculosis had been alleviated or subdued. In South Africa, the Department of Health says that malaria cases are down from a peak of 63 000 in 2000 to 15 000 in 2004 in the hardest hit areas.

This trend is not reflected in many other states, and the United Nations’ Roll Back Malaria programme (RBM) estimates that malaria costs Africa more than US$ 12 billion a year in lost GDP, although it could be controlled for a fraction of that cost. Many countries in Africa lack the infrastructure and resources necessary to launch sustainable campaigns against malaria, which, according to RBM, is also the leading cause of under-five mortality on the continent.

Though it had been considered alleviated on the continent, polio is another life-threatening disease endangering Africa’s children in particular. The disease reappeared in more than 10 African countries in the past decade. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Mali and Guinea have all experienced outbreaks. Somalia had a major outbreak in 2005 with 200 confirmed cases. The Democratic Republic of Congo experienced the largest modern outbreak in 1995 with over 1000 victims.

In 2003, Nigerian religious leaders reported that the polio vaccine was unsafe, made women infertile and was a western plot to decrease Muslims. The WHO reports that many children consequently did not get vaccinated and within the year, 200 children were paralysed. The World Health Organisation has warned that Africa could be on the verge of a major polio outbreak.

Up to 1500 Africans die every day from TB and Africa remains the only continent where TB rates are increasing, says WHO. In just 15 years, overall rates have doubled; and tripled in high HIV areas. Virtually untreatable strains of TB, Multi-drug Resistant (MDR-TB) and Extreme Drug Resistant (XDR-TB), have now become a cause for concern in South Africa, where HIV has left many people’s immune systems severely compromised.

Alarmingly high mortality rates have been found in XDR-TB patients in Kwazulu-Natal. Over 200 people have died from the disease of which 74 were from the province, according to Reuters. WHO reports that HIV/Aids could cause an acceleration of XDR-TB infections and create an uncontrollable epidemic.

The extent of these diseases has huge economic implications and bars Africa from developing socially and economically. Not only does control of it entail huge economic consequences but Africa is also losing much-needed human resources.


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