The girl in Sierra Leone

  • 30/01/2004

The girl in Sierra Leone A girl born in Japan today may live till she is 85, but another born in Sierra Leone can expect to live only 36 years

Despite global gains, in 2002, while life expectancy at birth reached 78 years for developed country women, it fell to less than 46 for sub-Saharan Africa men

At six, the Japanese girl would be immunised against diseases like measles, diphtheria and polio but not the girl in Sierra Leone. Three out of 10 of her friends would have died from those diseases before turning five

The killers
Causes of child deaths in poor countries, 2002
Cause (by rank) Numbers
per cent of
all deaths
Perinatal conditions 2,375 23.1
Lower respiratory infections 1,856 18.1
Diarrhoeal diseases 1,566 15.2
Malaria 1,098 10.7
Measles 551 5.4
Congenital anomalies 386 3.8
HIV/AIDS 370 3.6
Pertussis 301 2.9
Tetanus 185 1.8
Protein-energy malnutrition 138 1.3
Other causes 1,437 14.0
Total 10,263 100
98 per cent of the 10.5 million under-five child deaths in 2002 were in developing countries and 35 per cent of Africa’s children are at higher risk of death today than a decade ago

If both girls develop chronic diseases with age, the Japanese will receive good treatment, rehabilitation and medications worth about us $550, but the girl from Sierra Leone will get only us $3 of medicines resulting in her death prematurely

Due to a fall in adult mortality in low-mortality regions coupled with a rise in high-mortality areas, the mortality gap has widened between the regions to 340 deaths per 1000 in 2002. Mortality rates in parts of Africa are higher than 30 years ago

hiv/aids is the world’s leading cause of death in 15-59 year olds but almost half of the disease burden in high-mortality regions is now due to non-communicable diseases

For the girl in Sierra Leone to have the same chance of a healthy life as in Japan would need scaling up of healthcare systems, which equitably provide access to quality services for acute and chronic diseases, effective disease prevention services and are able to respond to new threats

Source: Anon 2003, The World Health Report 2003, World Health Organisation, Geneva

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