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East Afr Med J. 1997 Oct;74(10):629-33.

Health and the elderly in developing countries with special reference to sub-Saharan Africa.

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African Medical and Research Foundation, Nairobi, Kenya.


The numbers of elderly people in sub-Saharan Africa are growing rapidly with increasing life expectancy while at the same time the proportions of children in the populations are declining. The number of people 80 years and above increased tenfold in large parts of Africa since the 1950's, and the number of widows is growing fast. All this has several implications, including erosion of the social support by extended families and a dramatic change in the disease pattern. There will be increasing rates of cancer, liver cirrhosis, kidney failure, eye disease, osteoarthrosis, diabetes, mental illness and chronic degenerative illnesses such as cardiovascular disease. Multiple illness and permanent disability will become more common. African health care systems are ill-prepared for this transition, and social security for the elderly need to be improved in the coming years. Local and regional research into morbidity and well-being is important for policy formulation. The situation of different categories of chronically sick needs to be investigated. Improved health in childhood and middle age will probably be followed by improved health in old age, and this may offset the burden on the health care system of the growing number of elderly.

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