Poverty & Healthcare

Rebuilding healthcare

The long civil war (1975-2002) caused the collapse of healthcare in Angola, as many doctors fled the country and facilities were destroyed.

Shortage of doctors

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were fewer than 1,200 physicians in the country in 2000-2010, which represents just one doctor for every 10,000 people.

The government faces the huge task of rebuilding health services and finding staff for medical centres and hospitals – see Hospitals.

Overcrowded living conditions are a severe health problem in the slums of the capital, Luanda, where many people fled during the war. With no running water or proper toilets, conditions are extremely unsanitary in slum areas. Diarrhoeal diseases and cholera outbreaks are common. In 2009, over 2,000 cholera cases were reported (WHO).

Angolan children

Outside the capital, health care is limited. Children are frequently left without immunization to killer diseases such as measles and diphtheria. Recent funding from international health organisations has helped boost some immunisation programmes, such as the campaign against polio.

Common threats

As in many countries of Africa, malaria presents a huge risk in Angola. In 2009, there were more than 2.2 million cases of malaria (WHO 2009).

Due to the isolation of people during the long years of fighting, Angola has not suffered as badly from the HIV/AIDS epidemic as some African countries. Around 180,000 adults are infected with the disease (UNAIDS 2009), representing around 2% of the adult (15+) population.

HIV/AIDS has left around 140,000 children without one or both parents (UNAIDS 2009).

High infant mortality

Screening for sickle cell

The screening of newborns in Angola allows for early diagnosis and treatment of sickle cell disease. This is being pioneered in large hospitals in the capital. Health experts hope the programme can eventually be expanded across the country.

Angola has one of the highest rates of sickle cell disease (also known as sickle cell anaemia) in the world. Around 6,000 babies are born with the illness each year. It is an inherited genetic condition, with as many as a fifth of Angolans carrying the sickle cell trait.

The disease causes an abnormality in haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells. Normal red blood cells can bend and travel around the body easily. Sickle haemoglobin sticks together to form long rigid shapes, which have trouble squeezing through small blood vessels. This prevents oxygen getting through to parts of the body, causing severe pain and damage to organs.

Children born with sickle cell disease can easily die from bacterial infections or strokes before the age of two, helping to explain why Angola has one of the highest child mortality rates across the globe. For every 1,000 children born, 161 – roughly 1 in 6 – will not reach their fifth birthday (WHO, 2009).