Article written

  • on 31.10.2014
  • at 02:00 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

Factsheet: The leading causes of death in Africa 0

By World Health Organisation (WHO) figures, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa claimed 3,338 lives between the week of 30 December and the week of 28 September. Though the virulence and rapid spread of the Ebola virus are major causes of concern, it is important to understand the mortality figures in the broader sub-Saharan African context.

In 2012 – the most recent complete WHO figures for the World Bank sub-Saharan African region – about 9.6-million people died in the region, amounting to an average of 7.2-million deaths in 39 weeks.

Many top killers preventable

Deaths in Africa in 2012 fell largely in the WHO Group 1 category (death through communicable diseases, and perinatal, maternal and nutritional causes): 5.9-million deaths amounting to 61.7% of all deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.

Group 2, death as a result of non-communicable diseases, accounted for 2.7-million deaths or 28.6% of all deaths. This category includes heart disease (293,000 deaths), various forms of cancer (426,000) and diabetes (175,000).

Group 3, deaths through injury, amounted to 939,000 deaths, or 9.8% of the total. Group 3 causes of death include unintentional injuries, such as road accidents (207,000), and intentional injuries, such as inter-personal violence (132,000) and collective violence (14,000).

Non-communicable and lifestyle diseases are the top killers in high-income countries, accounting for 67.8% of deaths in 2012. In contrast, many of the top killers in sub-Saharan Africa – lower respiratory tract infections, tuberculosis, diarrhoeal disease and malaria – are preventable and treatable, given adequate healthcare systems and resources.

According to the WHO’s figures, the five top killers in Africa in 2012 were:

  • lower respiratory tract infections,
  • diarrhoeal diseases,
  • malaria, and
  • strokes.

(Note: The 2012 figures below are drawn from the WHO’s Global Health Estimates summary tables for cause of death in 2000 and 2012. Given that the Ebola outbreak to the end of September 2014 had only affected countries in sub-Saharan Africa, data was drawn from the WHO’s summary table of the World Bank sub-Saharan Africa region. Data sources and methodology are available on the organisation’s Global Health Estimates webpage.)

1. AIDS-related deaths

Though the number of deaths in the region due to AIDS-related illnesses was estimated have dropped by 22% between 2001 and 2012, the number of deaths still amounted to a significant share of the world total: 70% of global deaths.

In 2012, more than 1.1-million people were thought to have died from AIDS-related illnesses in the region, an 11.5% share of the regional tally. Disaggregated over 39 weeks, this amounted to 831,000 deaths.

In that year, roughly 25-million individuals in the region were living with HIV; about one in every 36 people.

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