Diseases Take Their Deadly Toll

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Diseases Take Their Deadly Toll

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Up to a third of the world's population is infected by soil-borne diseases caused by worms and parasites, with 300 million experiencing severe adverse effects. Such maladies are invariably more prevalent in the poorest sections of the poorest countries.

At the beginning of the 21st century, epidemics ranging from cholera and meningitis to Ebola and Lassa fever continue to pose serious worldwide risks to health. In the last four years the World Health Organization (WHO) claims to have verified more than 800 internationally significant outbreaks.

Preventable problems such as respiratory disease, diarrhea, malaria, measles and malnutrition account for more than 70 percent of child mortality in Africa. Medical researchers estimate that a million and a half of the 75 million children under age 5 in Africa die each year from pneumonia. The WHO estimates that each child in the region has five attacks of diarrhea per year and that 800,000 die annually from diarrhea and dehydration. Malnutrition and measles are often associated with these deaths.

In 1993 malaria affected some 90 countries or territories, almost half of them in Africa south of the Sahara. The world faces an estimated 300-500 million clinical cases annually, with tropical Africa accounting for more than 90 percent of that total. The vast majority of malarial deaths occur among young children in Africa, especially in remote rural areas with poor access to health services. About one million deaths among children under 5 years of age can be attributed to malaria alone or in combination with other diseases.

In Africa south of the Sahara, 70 to 90 percent of the population shows evidence of prior hepatitis-B infection. Hepatitis B is a major factor in liver cancer, which ranks either first or second among cancer deaths in males in many sub-Saharan African countries. Primary cancer of the liver is always fatal. The average age of death is 35-45 years, killing parents and wage earners at the most productive time of their lives. GN