Africa's heavy disease burden costs $2.4tr a year

Thursday March 28 2019

A child stands amongst pools of stagnant water in Beira, Mozambique, on March 27, 2019. A cholera outbreak has been reported in the flooded Mozambican port that was hit by Cyclone Idai. PHOTO | REUTERS


Africa loses more than $2.4 trillion from its gross domestic product value due to its disease burden every year, a new report by the UN health agency states.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that that is equivalent to having lost 630 million years of life in 2015.

The report titled A Heavy Burden: The Productivity Cost of Illness in Africa was launched this week at the second WHO Africa Health Forum in Cape Verde.

Non-communicable diseases are the leading drain on productivity and account for 37 percent of Africa's disease burden, overtaking infectious diseases.

In 2018, WHO cancer registry, Globocan, reported that there were about one million new cases of cancer with more than half, some 693,487 people, losing their lives that year.

The agency notes that about 47 percent or $796 billion could be spared by 2030 if African countries invested in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals relating to health such as SDG 3 on good health and wellbeing, SDG 6 on clean water and sanitation, among others.


Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, expressed concerns that countries are not investing enough to achieve the universal health coverage.

“Four years into the implementation of countries’ efforts towards achieving UHC, current average expenditure on health in the region falls short of this expectation,” she says in the report.

Health expenditure

While no East African country has met the Abuja Declaration target of spending at least 15 percent of its GDP on health, Rwanda is on course, spending 7.5 percent of its GDP on health, followed by Uganda at 7.2 percent, Kenya 6 percent and Tanzania at 5.6 percent.

The report notes that the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria, and South Africa accounted for almost half of the total years lost in healthy life.

Dr Edwin Barasa of Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) Wellcome Trust says governments need to give greater focus to strengthening primary healthcare for disease prevention.

He called for proper planning of financial resources allocated to health, saying in Kenya for example, most of the monies are spent on remuneration.

“This report illustrates how achievement of the critical health SDG targets, including universal health coverage, would contribute to poverty eradication efforts on a large-scale, reduce disparities in lifespan, tackle social exclusion and promote political stability and economic development,” says Grace Kabaniha, WHO health economist. 

According to estimates by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad), to attain the 17 SDGs will require spending of between $1.5 trillion to $2.5 trillion per year until 2030, or up to $ 37.5 trillion. Low-income countries will need an additional $671 billion, which is $76 per capita on average, until 2030 to attain the health-related SDGs.

The study comes amid significant public health challenges that have shaken fragile health systems across the continent including DRC where Ebola death toll stands at 621, and cholera outbreak in Mozambique where a cyclone has killed more than 1,000 people. Frequent industrial action of health workers also undermine healthcare services including interruption of vaccination exercises.