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“Call it the Curse of Geography”

“A person born in the African continent can expect to live 18 years less than someone born in America or Europe. Enduring life in a place with the world’s highest infant and child mortality rates does not guarantee the breaking of this curse.”

30 October 2023 by Pascalinah Kabi

Despite witnessing a significant increase of 56 years in life expectancy per person, the African continent still has a long journey ahead to catch up with the rest of the world in critical health indicators.

These findings were unveiled in the inaugural State of Africa’s Environment Report, launched in Nairobi, Kenya earlier this month.

“In August 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) delivered promising news for the African continent: healthy life expectancy, defined as ‘the number of years an individual is in a good state of health,’ stood at 56 years per person in 2019. This marked a remarkable improvement from 46 years per person in the year 2000,” read the report. 

According to the report, compiled by the Indian-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment in association with Media for Environment,  Science, Health and Agriculture, this 10-year increase was the highest globally, as stated by WHO.

The report’s goal is to facilitate a comprehensive understanding of various aspects of the environment, making the connections between the environment and development clearer for both Africa and the rest of the world.

While acknowledging that the increase in Africa’s life expectancy indicates that more people are living healthier lives, it also emphasises that “this does not necessarily mean that the continent is on par with the rest of the world regarding critical health indicators.”

“The healthy life expectancy of 56 years per person in 2019 falls short of the global average of 64 years. Furthermore, Africa lags behind in the indicator of life expectancy at birth,” highlights the report.

The State of Africa’s Environment Report cites Lars Kamer, a research lead at the online data platform Statista for Africa, who notes that the average life expectancy for African children born in 2022 was 61 years for males and 64 years for females.

By contrast, the global average in mid-2021 was 70 years for males and 75 years for females. Except for North Africa, where life expectancy is close to the worldwide average for both men and women, life expectancy across all African regions paints a grim picture.

“Call it the Geography Curse. A person born in the African continent can expect to live 18 years less than someone born in America or Europe. Enduring life in a place with the world’s highest infant and child mortality rates does not guarantee that the curse will be broken,” reads the report.

Meanwhile, the report further highlights that a lack of substantial investments in healthcare infrastructure by African governments has led to 80 percent of the continent’s population turning to traditional healers for treatment.

“The absence of political will to enhance healthcare infrastructure has resulted in 80 percent of the population seeking treatment from traditional healthcare providers,” the report states.

With a population of approximately 1.5 billion people in Africa, this underscores the need for more significant investment in healthcare.

“The African Union’s Abuja Declaration stipulates that every country must allocate at least 15 percent of its annual budget to healthcare. However, in 2014, only four countries managed to achieve this,” highlights the report.

In Lesotho, a 2022 study on the Usage of Traditional, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine and Related Factors among Patients Receiving Healthcare in Lesotho reveals that the country has a long history of using traditional, complementary, and alternative medicine (TCAM) products.

“Studies in Lesotho have primarily focused on the use of medicinal plants or herbal medicine to treat various conditions, including HIV, wound care, and reproductive problems. However, the uncoordinated harvesting of medicinal plants has raised serious concerns among environmentalists and the community as a whole in the country.

“Documented side effects resulting from the concurrent use of TCAM products include gastrointestinal disturbances (such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and abdominal pain), dizziness, headache, and malaise,” note the authors of the report on the use of medicinal herbs in Lesotho,” said report authors.


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