Top 10 Diseases Causing The Most Deaths in Africa

4 min


These are deadly killers in the continent of Africa. Adults and children alike have fallen victim to these diseases leading a high mortality rate attributed by poor hygiene, lack of proper treatment and lack of awareness. Here is the list of the top 10 diseases causing the most diseases in Africa.

10. Epilepsy

  • Deaths per 100,000 people per year: 10

It is one of the major brain disorders thought to affect between three and four million Africans. Epilepsy is a chronic medical condition produced by a temporary change in the electrical function of the brain, causing seizures which affect awareness, movement or sensation. Left untreated, it could impede the social development of the patient.

What’s actually surprising is that up to 80% of people suffering from epilepsy don’t receive treatment. Some factors which contribute to this worrying statistic include insufficient information about the disease, social and cultural stigma and poor medical health care.

9. Liver cirrhosis

  • Deaths per 100,000 people per year: 15

This one of the most misunderstood diseases in Africa. Most people relate this disease to alcohol abuse. What you may not know is that most cases of cirrhosis is mainly attributed to hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV). Obesity also plays an indirect role in contributing to an individual having the disease.

Treatment of liver cirrhosis is inaccessible in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa, given the huge shortage of hepatologists and gastroenterologists, interventional radiologists, hepatobiliary surgeons, and pathologists. Liver transplants are uncommon and done only in South Africa, and the costs are prohibitive for the governments of almost all sub-Saharan countries.

8. Neonatal sepsis and infections

  • Deaths per 100,000 people per year: 20

This refers to infections a new born baby might get during and after birth. These infections occur in the presence of a bacterial blood stream infection such as meningitis and pneumonia. What makes this infections dangerous is that it is difficult to diagnose clinically. That means you’ll only know your new born child has an infection as soon as the severe symptoms start to appear.

7. Diabetes mellitus

  • Deaths per 100,000 people per year: 21

Diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Epidemiological transition, demographic and nutrition changes have often been cited as the major driving forces in the rapid increase of the number of individuals with diabetes in Africa.

The increase in prevalence and premature mortality due to diabetes imposes huge financial costs to households and governments whist placing immense pressure on the already overstretched healthcare systems in Africa

6. Tuberculosis

  • Deaths per 100,000 people per year: 24

The bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes tuberculosis, an infectious disease that affects the lungs. Tuberculous only gets serious or fatal if it is left untreated. As this infectious disease progresses (becomes active), persons develop a chronic cough, sometimes with blood in the mucus. fever, night sweat and rapid weight loss.

An estimated  29% of reported cases originate in Africa and 34% of the deaths from TB also occurs in Africa.

5. Meningitis

  • Deaths per 100,000 people per year: 28

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes (meninges) surrounding your brain and spinal cord. The swelling from meningitis typically triggers symptoms such as headache, fever and a stiff neck.
Viral and bacterial infections are the most common cause but bacterial meningitis is much more serious due to its rapid onset and poses a significant risk of death.

The most common symptoms are a stiff neck, high fever, sensitivity to light, confusion, headaches and vomiting. Even when the disease is diagnosed early and adequate treatment is started, 5% to 10% of patients die, typically within 24 to 48 hours after the onset of symptoms. Bacterial meningitis may result in brain damage, hearing loss or a learning disability in 10% to 20% of survivors. 

4. Ischaemic heart disease

  • Deaths per 100,000 people per year: 35

It’s the term given to heart problems caused by narrowed heart arteries. When arteries are narrowed, less blood and oxygen reaches the heart muscle. This is also called coronary artery disease and coronary heart disease. This can ultimately lead to heart attack.

The prevalence of coronary heart disease is promoted in turn by a high prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors, particularly smoking, hypertension, dyslipidemia, diabetes, and sedentary lifestyles. 

3. Malaria

  • Deaths per 100,000 people per year: 62

Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease common in Africa. The female Anopheles mosquito transmits the virus it bites an individual. Ten to fifteen days after the mosquito bite, an individual may experience fever, headaches, vomiting, and lethargy. Yellow skin, coma or even death occurs in the more serious cares.

Yellow skin, coma or even death occurs in the more serious cares. In 2015, 90% of the 296 million cases and 731,000 deaths occurred in Africa. Treatment of malaria infected persons deplete the resources of many African countries.  

2. Cholera

  • Deaths per 100,000 people per year: 68

Cholera is an infectious disease that causes severe watery diarrhoea, and can lead to dehydration and kill within hours if left untreated. People with low immunity – such as malnourished children or people living with HIV – are at a greater risk of death if infected.

The symptoms of cholera include diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, and severe dehydration. The disease is most common in places with poor sanitation, urbanization, conflict zones and famine. Effective ways to protect yourself is using water that has been boiled, water that has been chemically treated, or bottled water.

1. HIV/AIDS

  • Deaths per 100,000 people per year: 122

Human Immunodeficiency Virus is an infection that weakens the immune system by destroying white blood cells. This leaves the body vulnerable to other diseases and infection like pneumonia. HIV sometimes may develop into the Acquired Immune Deficiency.

Africa accounts for 70% of all the world’s HIV cases and HIV related deaths. Pandemic levels exist in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, and Zambia. 


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