Do SA, Nigeria have fewer cardiologists for their populations than Senegal?

Senegal has a better cardiologists-to-population ratio than countries like South Africa and Nigeria, a prominent Senegalese heart specialist said. We looked closely at the numbers.

During commemorations for World Heart Day last year, a leading Senegalese doctor said the West African country has more heart specialists per population than two of Africa’s leading economies.

“We have 80 cardiologists, so one cardiologist for 150,000 people. We are doing better than South Africa that has one cardiologist for 450,000 inhabitants, [and] better than Nigeria that has one cardiologist for one million people,” said Professor Serigne Abdou Bâ, head of the cardiology department at Aristide Le Dantec hospital in Dakar.

He is reported to have said this by the Senegalese News Agency (APS) in October 2016.

Are these numbers accurate? Africa Check sought to verify them.

Senegal’s situation

Contacted by Africa Check, Bâ confirmed the figures in the news report, saying they were from a study led by himself. However, he failed to provide the study to us, despite repeated requests. (Note: We will update this article when he does).

The most recent estimate put Senegal’s population at 14.1 million people. Therefore, if the number of cardiologists had stayed the same, the current ratio works out to 1 cardiologists for every 176,000 Senegalese, not 1:150,000.

What is the ratio in Nigeria?

Prof Serigne Abdou Ba (in white coat) is seen here with Senegal president Macky Sall during the opening of the cardiology ward of the Aristide Le Dantec hospital on 20 January, 2015. Photo: SFC.
Prof Serigne Abdou Bâ (in the white coat) with Senegal president Macky Sall during the opening of the cardiology ward of the Aristide Le Dantec hospital in January 2015. Photo: SFC

An official of the Nigerian Cardiac Society, Dr Okechukwu Ogah, told Africa Check that there are 332 doctors specialised in various domains of cardiology in Nigeria, according to a 2016 register. However, only 114 members appear on the website of the Nigerian Cardiac Society.

Ogah said the figure on the website is about a decade old. He added that postdoctoral medical examinations, done twice a year, produce between 8 and 12 new cardiologists every year in Nigeria. According to the doctor, some cardiologists working in Nigeria are also not registered with the Nigerian Cardiac Society.

An official census of 2006 put Nigeria’s population at 140 million inhabitants, while an estimate in 2016 by the Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics showed about 193 million people. (Note: The estimate is based on Nigeria’s 2006 census which could be an overcount due to issues such as political interference.)

Therefore, with 332 cardiologists currently registered in Nigeria, the ratio works out to 1 cardiologist for 581,000 people.

What about South Africa?

Erika Dau of the South African Heart Association – a voluntary organisation of South African cardiologists – told Africa Check that official data on the number of cardiologists in the country is available from the Health Professions Council of South Africa, which we tried to contact unsuccessfully.

Dau added that the council’s data accounts for all cardiologists registered in the country. However, she said, some might be working abroad while maintaining their registration in South Africa in case they return.

In a June 2016 article in the Cardiovascular Journal of Africa, various experts from South African universities and institutions – including Dau – indicated that “about 200” cardiologists are registered in the country. 

If this figure had stayed the same,  the ratio works out to 1 cardiologist for 280,000 people, using Statistics South Africa‘s official population estimate of 55.9 million.

Conclusion: Claim mostly correct based on available data

The figures given by Professor Serigne Abdou Bâ on the cardiologist-to-population ratio in South Africa and Nigeria were incorrect. The best data available points to a ratio of 1:280,000 in South Africa instead of 1:450,000. Nigeria has 1 cardiologist for every 581,000 people, rather than 1 for every 1 million people.

The cardiologist-to-population ratios for both countries are still lower than that of Senegal, though. It is at 1:176,000, using Bâ’s figure for the number of cardiologists in the country and the most recent population estimate of 14.1 million.

Senegal is therefore better off than Nigeria and South Africa when we look at the population served by cardiologists.

Edited by Assane Diagne, translated by Julie Bourdin. See the full French version here.

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