Without Further Actions, the Majority of East Africans Alive Today Will Die Before Reaching Retirement Age
This column is dedicated to the passing of Jason Spindler, a personal friend of the author who died prematurely and tragically in the recent Nairobi terror attacks.
Today’s indicator figure is 747,913
But, 747,913 of what?
747,913 is the number of East Africans who passed away before reaching the retirement age of 65 in the year 2017 according to the Global Burden of Disease Study from the Institute of Health Metrics. We suggest that death before retirement age is premature death, therefore 74% of East African citizens die prematurely.
Which EAC country has the highest and which has the lowest rate of premature deaths?
Burundi leads the EAC in the percentage of premature deaths at 79% followed by Uganda at 78% though Tanzania and Kenya lead in total volume of premature deaths at 245,754 and 209,088 respectively due largely to the total population sizes being greater than the other EAC countries.
How does premature death rates in the EAC compare to other regions of the world?
Premature death rates in the EAC are higher than other parts of the world and typically correlate with poverty and low GDP per capita ratios. Access to health care and the money needed to diagnose and complete treatments generally increase with GDP per capita.
What is causing the premature deaths in the EAC?
In Kenya the leading cause of premature death is HIV/AIDS, in Tanzania and Uganda it is neonatal disorders, in Rwanda it is lower respiratory infections, and in Burundi it is malnutrition.
Is premature death in the EAC getting better or worse?
For the most part, premature deaths are decreasing. Since 2007, HIV/AIDS premature deaths have declined by 52.4% in Kenya, neonatal disorders in Uganda have dropped by 12.1%, Rwandan lower respiratory infections have declined by 24.2%, malnutrition has declined by 5.6% in Burundi, but neonatal disorders have increased in Tanzania by 2.4%.
The largest recent increase in premature deaths comes from heart disease, often associated with economic prosperity or increased inequality, which has increased in Kenya by 22.6%, in Tanzania by 34.2%, and in Uganda by 13.4%.
What are the projected impacts of premature death in EAC countries?
We can assume that an average person contributes an average amount to the GDP of a country and each year each person contributes to increasing the prosperity of a nation. A premature death lowers the economic growth of a nation as it suffers not only the emotional damage but also the loss of a future stream of income from each individual citizen who passes prematurely. Individuals with health conditions may have less capacity for work and are less likely to bring their ideas or services to market, which in aggregate slows down development. The growth or preservation of generational wealth is particularly vulnerable, especially when parents die during their peak earning years.
What is being done to prevent premature deaths in the EAC?
Recent years have seen great developments in coordinated approaches to preventing and managing these diseases and health conditions. The East African Legislative Assembly passed the EAC HIV & AIDS Prevention and Management Act in 2012, which standardized responses to HIV/AIDS across the region. This allowed for standardized responses to the large spread of the disease and gave patients more access to treatment and resources needed. The more reliable supply of ARTs and Retrovir (ZIdovudine), which prevents mother-to-child transmission, is essential to keep patients living well.
Studies across the Continent show that less than half of affected populations are aware that they are living with these conditions and are very unlikely to seek treatment or managed care. In East Africa, the percentage of the population with hypertension is 25%. As urbanization, demographic trends, and population ageing continue this rate is likely to increase. Increased consumption of fast food and living sedentary lifestyles are risk factors for hypertension.
East African countries are building up their capacity to provide care for patients with cardiovascular disease and hypertension. A long-term collaboration with US universities and medical teams has resulted in new availability of treatment options from Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute in 2014. Before, patients were sent to India to have their cardiovascular conditions addressed, which was financially out of reach for many.
The SEARCH approach is a community-based approach recently piloted in Kenya and Uganda that results in significantly better health outcomes for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and hypertension, which brings multi-disease screening to communities for the average citizen, increasing awareness of any medical conditions present. Screenings at health fairs included diabetes and malaria. All patients were presented with options to address their conditions.
While the health challenges ahead may be daunting, many new paths have been forged to lead to better health outcomes.
What investment opportunities emerge with people living longer and more productive lives?
We can anticipate a greater need for food, medical care, housing, telecom, and transportation as the primary sectors of growth due to a demographic shift with East Africans living longer lives, all consistent with general macroeconomic growth of the region.
How can I learn more?
Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME):
Country by Country Health Snapshots from IHME:
About the authors:
David L. Ross is the Managing Director at Stratera Capital, Distinguished Professor of Practice at Carnegie Mellon University-Africa, and US Ambassador to the Open University of Tanzania. David is active in growing companies in Eastern and Southern Africa through angel investment, investment advisory, strategic partnerships, and executive education. Connect on LinkedIn at http://tz.linkedin.com/in/davidlross1 or at [email protected]