MAURITANIA — Combating common diseases in Mauritania has been an arduous task for government and NGOs alike. The fact that Mauritania has a fertility rate of four children per woman, and that nearly 60 percent of the population is under the age of 25, leads many to believe the population of the Saharan nation will continue to grow, further complicating the process of dealing with common diseases in Mauritania.
Right now, Mauritania’s health expenditures are around 3.8 percent of its GDP ––fairly typical of a developing country. Mauritania ranks 166 out of 192 countries surveyed by the CIA when it comes to health care spending, and carries an extremely low physicians density of 0.13 physicians for every 1,000 people.
Mauritanian Health Risks
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “the Mauritanian people face serious health risks and many children suffer from diarrhea and other diseases related to deteriorating environmental conditions. Around 2150 Mauritanians, including 1,700 children under the age of five die each year from diarrheal disease. WHO estimates that nearly 90 percent of these deaths are directly attributed to the poor quality of water, sanitation and lack of hygiene.”
Besides water quality and sanitation, the country’s landscape has provided challenges to the treating, and eradication, of common diseases in Mauritania. As most of the country is covered by the sparse Saharan desert, service delivery has proved a particularly difficult challenge.
The degree of risk of contracting a major infectious disease in Mauritania is considered “very high” by the CIA, and Mauritanians battle vectorborne diseases like malaria and dengue fever, respiratory diseases like meningococcal meningitis and food or waterborne diseases like bacterial and protozoal diarrhea. Furthermore, many of the wild animals in Mauritania have rabies — another serious risk to human health.
With a poor healthcare system, these common diseases in Mauritania are killers. About 10 percent of Mauritanian deaths are caused by malaria and diarrheal diseases each, while acute respiratory infections account for at least 16 percent of deaths.
Poor conditions and bad sanitary practices, as well as a general lack of knowledge and resources, in areas pertaining to the livestock industry have given rise to several recent outbreaks in Mauritania. In May, it was reported that a case of Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever had occurred in Mauritania. This disease, which is primarily transported by ticks attracted to livestock, causes a severe fever and diarrhea, and carries a fatality rate of about 10 to 40 percent.
In 2003, Mauritania suffered an outbreak of the disease, with 38 people infected and nearly 30 percent dying from the disease. Currently, the man who contracted CCHF this year is in the hospital and in stable condition.
Another notable outbreak in Mauritania includes an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in 2010. While this is not a common disease in the country and was unexpected, the remoteness of the region led to problems in properly combating the disease, and 13 people died.
Common diseases in Mauritania are extremely difficult to find and treat. The CDC recommends that travelers to Mauritania –– in addition to getting routine travel vaccinations –– get vaccines for Yellow Fever and take measures to prevent the contraction of Typhoid and Hepatitis A, both often contracted from unsanitary water or food.
Improving Sanitation and Hygiene
Due to the country’s poverty and inability to fight common diseases in Mauritania on its own, WHO has begun directly fighting disease in the country. An area of particular focus is sanitation and hygiene.
Three ways WHO encourages sanitation in Mauritania are 1) directly sanitizing drinking water, 2) “decentralizing the control of water quality beyond the capital” and 3) ensuring that medical waste does not contaminate food or drinking water, or in any way expose Mauritanians to disease.
One specific example is the El Baraka School in Mauritania’s capital of Nouakchott, where water basins have been installed and hygiene training provided on the advice of the WHO. Street vendors adjacent to the school have also been educated on sanitary practices in relation to preparing food. According to the WHO, more than 6,500 people have benefited from the improved hygiene that arose from this project.
The WHO has also worked with regional authorities in constructing biomedical waste incinerators. The organization has also been training health care workers on preventing the spread of disease by hazardous waste products.
As mentioned, treating of even common diseases in Mauritania is difficult in remote regions –– which is most of the country. To remedy this, WHO in 2013 constructed a mobile water control laboratory. This laboratory is no larger than a Land Rover –– in fact, it is a Land Rover. This mobile lab was given to Mauritania so that it could reach remote desert areas and perform chemical analyses of water quality.
This allows the expedition of government intervention when there is a crisis such as water contaminated with some virus or disease. Able to perform around 250 different chemical analyses, the Land Rover may actually help prevent outbreaks before they happen.
Such measures have produced positive results in Mauritania. Fighting common diseases in Mauritania remains difficult, but WHO notes that “step by step, things are beginning to improve.” According to the most recent country profile for Mauritania released by WHO, the percentage of deaths caused by diarrheal diseases has decreased, as well as deaths from preterm birth complications and birth asphyxia and birth trauma. To continue progressing the quality of its health care though, Mauritania will need continued support from organizations like WHO.
– David Mclellan