#WorldHealthDay: 10 quick facts about health in Africa

Does South Africa spend five times more on healthcare per person than Nigeria? Does one doctor serve 16,000 Kenyans? We’ve put together some startling facts from our work on the continent.

On 7 April 2019, World Health Day focuses on universal health coverage. To mark the day, we’ve compiled some facts about health in Africa that we’ve come across in our work over the last year.

1. Does South Africa spend seven times more on healthcare per person that Nigeria, as a national newspaper in the west African country claimed? It is actually slightly less at five times more, according to the most recent data (2015) available. But spending differences are persistent. Nigerians are particularly worse off in two aspects: government spending on health (16 times less than South Africa) and out-of-pocket spending (70.3% of health expenses against 7.7% for Nigeria).

READ: Nigeria spends 5 times less per person on healthcare than SA – not 7

2. There is one doctor for every 6,355 people in Kenya, according to data from the country’s medical board. Despite frequent references that the World Health Organization recommends this ratio should be 1:1,000, the UN health agency has previously told Africa Check it does not prescribe a specific ratio.

READ: As help from Cuba arrives, is there only one Kenyan doctor for every 16,000 people?

3. Children are among the most vulnerable groups when it comes to malaria. In Nigeria, malaria is only surpassed by pneumonia as the leading cause of death in children under five. It is estimated to have caused 12.5% of deaths in this age group in 2016.

READ: Claim that malaria kills 756,000 Nigerian children each year incorrect

4. Yes, teenagers account for 10% of deliveries in South Africa, but not half of all the country’s maternal deaths. In 2017, 10.9% of recorded births were to mothers aged 10 to 19. In the same year, 9.5% of maternal deaths during childbirth were of mothers aged under 20. Most maternal deaths (23.4%) were of women aged 30 to 34, followed by those aged 25 to 29 (22.8%).

5. Accurate data about births in Kenya is difficult to come by. In 2016, 948,351 births were recorded, with 875,101 in health facilities and 73,223 being home deliveries. But this total figure was estimated to only be 64.1% of all births. This is because many births in the country are not recorded.

READ: Twice as many ‘safe’ births in Kenyan health facilities? Still no way to verify claim

No data that ‘hundreds’ of kids have drowned in school pit latrines in South Africa

6. Nigeria had the highest share (26.9%) of new mother-to-child HIV infections in 2016 out of 23 priority countries, according to the most recently available UN data. Because the data is uncertain, the total number is estimated in a range – it could be as low as 22,000, or as high as 56,000. The country is currently carrying one of the world’s biggest HIV/Aids impact studies to provide better data and inform how to tackle the challenge.

7. Have ‘hundreds’ of kids drowned in school pit latrines in South Africa? This is a public health topic that strikes a sensitive nerve in the country, following horrifying headlines in recent years. Available records show two children, both 5, have drowned in pit latrines on school properties in recent years: Michael Komape in 2014, and Lumka Mkhethwa in 2018.


Two more children died when the walls of unsafe school toilets collapsed on them while one more was severely injured after falling into a pit latrine in 2016. Accurate information is needed in efforts to make sure such tragedies never happen again.

8. More than 13 million Kenyans will have health insurance through NHIF by 2022, Kenya’s ruling Jubilee government promised in 2017. We found that of the 7 million members of the National Health Insurance Fund as of January 2018, only 3.5 million were active, meaning they could receive treatment immediately. If one is not active they do not immediately benefit from the cover.

9. Mental health rarely receives due public attention, in fact in Kenyan law there are penalties for attempting suicide, leading to low disclosure to authorities. But this is only one reason for the country’s acute lack of suicide data. Poor recording of cause of death data, and of the total number of deaths in Kenya, further complicates the picture.

READ: Poor data on suicide leaves Kenya groping in the dark for answers

10. Nigeria ranks 7th for new tuberculosis cases worldwide and second in Africa. But it’s difficult to estimate the country’s TB burden because there isn’t enough good data. Most new cases of tuberculosis are simply not reported: Nigeria’s case notification rate is the lowest in the 20 countries on the high TB burden list (e.g. Ethiopia’s rate was 69% and South Africa’s 54%, with Kenya and Mozambique both at 45%).

Finally, the more you know

The lifestyle sections and health pages of many major newspapers and magazines routinely tout questionable health claims that are unsupported by scientific research or evidence. Some are relatively harmless. But others can have severe repercussions, like those falsely peddled as cures for HIV or diabetes. Our handy updated guide helps you sift the harmful from the helpful when it comes to your health.

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