GUINEA-BISSAU — The small west African country, Guinea-Bissau, has an estimated population of 1.6 million, of which 900,000 are children under 18 years old. The nation’s extreme poverty is an effect of the violence of the late 1990s which tore it apart and caused major damage to its economy and infrastructure, leaving many services, including healthcare, fragmented and underdeveloped.
The lack of a well-funded and functional healthcare system means that many of the common diseases in Guinea-Bissau go either un-treated or cannot be treated effectively. Many of the most common diseases in Guinea-Bissau are like those of other poverty-stricken sub-Saharan African countries. Tuberculosis is particularly dangerous, with 369 cases per 100,000 people noted in 2014.
Outbreaks of cholera are frequent, primarily due to inadequate sanitation and the fact that only 60 percent of the country has access to clean drinking water.
Lack of access to these basic needs can cause further health issues, including diarrhea and acute respiratory diseases, both of which are particularly dangerous to young children in the country. This is particularly evident in the increases seen in child mortality rates since the country’s conflict ended, with infant and under-five statistics at approximately 138 and 223 per 1,000 live births, respectively.
As with many countries of the region, malaria is one of the two most dangerous and widespread diseases in the country. There is a lack of a systematic immunisation structure in place and less than half of all children under five received adequate or correct malaria treatment. In certain areas of the country, the prevalence of malaria has led to misdiagnoses of children with any fever symptom, which can lead to treatment of antimalarial drugs that prove to be ineffective since they do not treat the actual illness from which the children suffer.
While steps have been taken to reduce the impact of malaria in Guinea-Bissau, it still remains one of the greatest dangers to the people of the country.
HIV/AIDS is the second of the most dangerous two diseases in Guinea-Bissau. An estimated 41,000 people across the country live with HIV — approximately 3.9 percent of the adult population. The disease’s prevalence can be due to several reasons with the main causes proposed to be inadequate health education, infrequent condom use and a lack of screening facilities.
The country’s youth are particularly vulnerable, with those between 15 and 24, especially women, diagnosed more often than other groups. While this has remained the case for a number of years, recent studies show that even in this demographic the number of cases are dropping, indicating progress made in preventing further transmission of the disease.
The progress in combatting these these common diseases in Guinea-Bissau is a result of the efforts of several groups. In 2011, the country officially opened its new national health institute, just a decade on from the end of the war. Resources given by several donors, including the WHO and IANPHI, allowed this to happen and proves a significant step towards solving the health issues damaging the country.
Doctors Without Borders have also been a major contributor to the cause, creating and supporting health centers in rural areas and educating health professionals in these regions.
The aid received by Guinea-Bissau has enabled steps to be taken towards alleviating some of the health issues it faces. Continued support from developed nations and NGOs may allow for this progress to continue and improve the health situation within the country.
– Gavin Callander