The Four Most Common Diseases in Sao Tome and Principe

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SAO TOME AND PRINCIPE — An island off the coast of West Africa, Sao Tome and Principe is a fairly remote country with a small population. However, the country’s size doesn’t devalue these people’s lives nor the risks that might harm their health. With greater understanding of the common diseases in Sao Tome and Principe, those with the resources to assist the people in need can gain insight as to what actions to take and what kind of support to give.

Here is a list of four common diseases in Sao Tome and Principe.

1. Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial disease easily communicable in the first few weeks of visible symptoms.

These symptoms include coughing up blood, chest pain, fatigue, fever, fills, night sweats and loss of appetite. TB can also affect other parts of the body, including the kidneys, spine or brain. About ninety percent of people with the illness have latent TB infection and do not exhibit any symptoms. The bacteria can remain inactive for many years and the chance of developing active TB diminishes over time.

However, HIV-positive people are more likely to contract TB due to their weakened immune systems. In impoverished areas like Western Africa, poverty prevents many people from accessing the medical care needed to diagnose and treat TB. Thanks to humanitarian efforts in the region, there have been no recent major outbreaks of TB in Sao Tome and Principe.

2. Malaria, spread through mosquitoes, is an endemic for most impoverished African countries, including Sao Tome Principe.

While uncomplicated malaria symptoms like those of influenza typically last from six to ten hours, impoverished people tend to see more severe complications associated with malaria that can lead to organ failure or even death. Since malaria is not only one of the common diseases in Sao Tome and Principe, but throughout the continent of Africa, organizations and governments have provided greater treatment and prevention options to vulnerable populations.

3. Cholera is actively transmitted in many impoverished countries, including Sao Tome and Principe.

About one in every ten cholera cases results in severe symptoms, including frequent diarrhea, vomiting, muscle cramps and low blood pressure. Persons with severe cholera can develop acute renal failure, severe electrolyte imbalances and coma. If untreated, severe dehydration can rapidly lead to shock and death in hours. Communities lacking sanitary living conditions and quality healthcare risk exposing themselves to the disease-causing bacteria through food and water.

Sao Tome’s last major cholera outbreak occurred in 2005, and since then, UNICEF has sent oral rehydration medications and deployed outreach workers to spread greater awareness of cholera and campaign to build more toilets in the country.

4. Necrotizing cellulitis is a rare disease, but an outbreak earlier this year has left Sao Tome and Principe vulnerable.

More than 1,300 cases of necrotizing cellulitis, a severe skin infection known for intense pain and swollen tissues, have been reported since September 2016. To date, every health district in the country has reported cases, and the country’s 190,000 inhabitants are at risk. Cases have been increasing but no deaths directly linked to the disease have been recorded.

Treatment involves removing dead skin, which sometimes requires extensive surgery, and giving intravenous antibiotics. The Ministry of Health and WHO are working to curb the outbreak through surveillance and information campaigns. With worldwide assistance and support, hopefully health officials can pinpoint the cause and treat infected people accordingly.

Again, the common diseases in Sao Tome and Principe greatly reflect those present throughout Africa, so world health leaders shouldn’t neglect helping this island nation in their humanitarian efforts. A sick person in Sao Tome and Principe is no less than a sick person in any other country — thus, global health outreach must extend to all.

Allie Knofczynski
Photo: Flickr

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