The Top 4 “Diseases of Poverty” in Sub-Saharan Africa

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the majority of diseases in low-income countries are caused by poverty. These diseases are known as “diseases of poverty.”

The Top 4

Diseases of poverty affect more than 1 billion people worldwide and are completely preventable. WHO has defined a total of 10 common causes of death for low-income countries. Below are the top 4 diseases that appear on that list.

1. Lower Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infection is a catch-all term for infections of the lungs, throat, sinuses and nose that interfere with breathing. Lower respiratory infections infect the lungs and create diseases like bronchitis, bronchiolitis and pneumonia. They account for one in seven child deaths.

Pneumonia, in particular, is responsible for 15 percent of all deaths of children younger than 5 years old. Most respiratory infections caused by bacteria are preventable and treatable through improved hygiene and antibiotics. There is a vaccine available for pneumonia for high-risk populations. Additionally, the flu vaccine is also an important part of preventing respiratory infections.

2. Diarrhea

Diarrhea is “the second leading cause of death for children under 5 years old.” There are at least 1.7 million cases of diarrhea from viruses, bacteria and parasites each year. It affects the gastrointestinal tract and causes malnutrition and dehydration.

This occurs because the body cannot absorb the necessary nutrients and electrolytes.

The most common cause of diarrhea is contaminated food and drinking water. Water improvement and nutrition programs in low-income countries can go a long way in preventing diarrhea.

3. Coronary Heart Disease

It is commonly assumed that coronary heart disease (e.g high blood pressure (hypertension), cardiac arrest, and heart attack) is linked primarily with high-income countries with rich, fatty diets. However, three-fourths of all deaths from cardiovascular diseases were in low- and middle-income countries.

It was the third-most deadly disease among low-income populations in the world in 2016.

Coronary heart disease develops when there is damage or disease in the major blood vessels connected to the heart. This occurs most commonly through the buildup of cholesterol deposits in the arteries and inflammation. Lack of access to surgical care, congenital heart problems and environmental exposure to dangerous chemicals are common causes of heart disease deaths in low-income countries. CHD is preventable, through behavioral changes, an increase of medical professionals in low-income areas and minimization of stress for low-income populations.


In 2018, there were an estimated 1.7 million new cases of HIV around the world. Poverty is one of the major factors contributing to HIV/AIDS infections. Several low-income countries in the world are considered to be “hyperendemic countries” for the disease.

In Sub-Saharan Africa specifically, 11,000 people die each day from complications from AIDS.

The region has more than 60 percent of the HIV/AIDS cases in the world.

Prevention of HIV/AIDS includes education about condoms, HIV testing and the dangers of sharing needles. Social awareness and monetary incentives can help provide education and preventative products.


Uzonna Anele
Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.


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