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Africa: The Lives, Love, and the Little Ones in the Heart of the World

Updated on December 4, 2013
Two elephants greet under the sunset.
Two elephants greet under the sunset. | Source

When Africa is mentioned in conversation, what do you initially think of? Do you think of bustling societies and wealthy families with large, spacious houses and job security? Probably not. While there are places that fit that description, most people think of people in need, who may be starving, or disease-stricken, or uneducated.

Efforts have been made to increase the quality of life for the people who live here, but the lack of structure and development has further diversified the continent in life expectancy, total fertility rate, and mortality rate in children under five.

Color Coded Maps - Areas of Concern are Shown in Dark Colors

Under Five Mortality Rate
Under Five Mortality Rate | Source
Total Fertility Rate in Women Ages 15-49
Total Fertility Rate in Women Ages 15-49 | Source
Female Life Expectancy
Female Life Expectancy | Source

Why is Life Expectancy Lower in Some Regions, but Not Others?

Life expectancy, although a broad statistic, is a great indicator of the socioeconomic status of African countries. Through researching what could cause a shorter lifespan, certain factors like

  • sanitation
  • war
  • famine
  • diseases like HIV/AIDS

have slowly decreased the average lifespan for the African woman (Life Expectancy).

Aside from the poor standard of living here, women are burdened with bearing children to keep up with the loss of lives in the community. In some countries in Central Africa, the average amount of children born per woman is 5, 6, or 7 (Total Fertility). This much strain on a woman’s body must surely impact her health in the long run. Also, in some countries, particularly Sierra Leone and Angola, there is nearly a one in five chance of dying before the age of five (Child Mortality Levels).

A mother comforts her sick child.
A mother comforts her sick child. | Source

Is there a Correlation between Child Mortality and Fertility?

If there is such a high mortality rate for the little ones in Africa, then more babies must be born per woman in order to make up for those who are lost. According to the maps, the general trend seen is that the higher the under-five mortality rate, the higher the total fertility rate. There are several plausible explanations for why this is true.

  1. African women are more likely to be less educated about their reproductive health.
  2. They do not have easy access to contraceptives like birth control pills or condoms; therefore they are more likely to get pregnant than someone who is aware of these resources.

Combine lack of reproductive knowledge with untreated diseases and little food, and the child mortality rate and total fertility rate will coincide (The Casual Relationship).

Is there a Difference Between Wealth and Contraceptive Use?

So how can the fertility rate be dropped and more children be saved? In a study done by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, researchers introduced contraceptives to several sub-Saharan African countries and studied the effect it had on fertility. They discovered that poorer women use contraceptives less than richer women, and in a region with very little wealth generated, more women will get pregnant more often than in wealthy society (Low Use of Contraception). This could explain why the fertility rate is so high in sub-Saharan African countries compared to developed nations around the world.

This map shows the percent of women that use contraceptives in each country.
This map shows the percent of women that use contraceptives in each country. | Source
A resort hotel off the coast of Mauritius
A resort hotel off the coast of Mauritius | Source

Regional Life Expectancy - African Islands Compared to the Mainland

In all three graphs, there are distinct differences between regions, and, with the exception of a few outliers, these differences have correlated between graphs. Let’s look at life expectancy for example.

Northern Africa tends to have a longer lifespan compared to southern and central Africa, and the islands have even higher life expectancy than that.

Surprisingly, Seychelles and Mauritius, both islands off the southeast coast of Africa, have a projected lifespan of 78, only three years less than the United States (Life Expectancy All Races Female).

In the African islands, the fertility rate is extremely low, and in one country it even falls below replacement, which is a little over 2 children per woman in order to replace both parents. Mauritius, which has one of the highest life expectancies, has a low fertility rate because there is less of a need to replace the dead if they live nearly twice as long as women in other countries.

Sometimes a lower fertility rate can have even more detrimental effects than an extremely high one, considering it indicates that the society is shrinking. If there are less youth to work and generate revenue, then the elderly and disabled will suffer, especially since Mauritius has a stable government and economy despite its small size and lack of resources (Economic Consequences).

taken from Google Search "Somali Map"
taken from Google Search "Somali Map"

A Glimpse Into the Lives of Somali Pirates

Why is Somali "Isolated" on the map?

Notice in the three maps of Africa at the top of the hub, Somalia stands out darker than the rest of the countries surrounding it.

Though many countries were grouped as regions, one country stood out on the map because it had a high under-five mortality rate, low life expectancy, and high fertility rate compared to the countries around it. Somalia, the tip of “the horn” of Africa, has been in the news recently because of pirates and civil unrest.

Although eighty-five percent of the country is comprised of native Somalians, the small ethnic groups in the south and the growing terrorism problem in the Middle East and Northern Africa have stunted Somalia’s growth and prosperity (Somalia). It wasn’t until August 20, 2012, that Somalia initiated a new government after nearly twenty years of being in a state of anarchy. With no government to protect the people, the life expectancy, overall health, and children have suffered here.

A collage of Somali Pirates taken from Wikipedia
A collage of Somali Pirates taken from Wikipedia | Source

Compared to Most African Countries, South Africa is Developed. Why is its Life Expectancy so Low?

One statistic that stood out was South Africa’s life expectancy. In both the total fertility rate and the under-five mortality rate, South Africa is much better off than most other countries. However, because of the AIDS epidemic, the lives of South African women are getting shorter and shorter (SOUTH AFRICA).

South Africa and other sub-Saharan African countries have been hardest hit with HIV/AIDS, with an astonishing 7 of 10 cases being found here.

  • Approximately two-thirds of adult cases and 90% of new cases among children occur in this region of the world.

This should definitely affect the child mortality rate, however, it is interesting to note that the country of South Africa and it’s neighbor Namibia have some of the lowest rates, yet are some of the highest countries affected by AIDS (AIDS in Africa). The highest under-five mortality rates actually occur in Central Africa. Countries on Africa’s western coast, such as Angola, have a different debilitating disease to worry about – Malaria.

How does Malaria Affect the Body?


Malaria and its Effect on Life

It’s no coincidence that the life expectancy is lower in the countries hardest hit by Malaria. These countries have little protection against the disease, which is transferred through mosquitoes (see video above). Efforts have been made to combat malaria, such as the creation and donation of mosquito nets to prevent African men, women, and children from being bitten. These efforts have made an impact, but they cannot prevent the disease from killing many Africans, 600,000 of them being children.

  • In 2010, 90% of all malaria deaths occurred in Africa, mostly among children under five years old (10 Facts on Malaria).

Interestingly enough, the fertility rate is very high in places most susceptible to malaria. When there is a high child mortality rate, there is a high fertility rate to make up for those who are lost. Sadly, “Children in sub-Saharan Africa are over 16 times more likely to die before the age of five than children in developed regions” (Children: Reducing Mortality).


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    • mintinfo profile image

      mintinfo 4 years ago

      I have often wondered why outsiders are so interested in studying and trying to save Africa. After-all a large percentage of Africa's problems can be directly correlated to the history of European exploitation of the continent. Even now large drug companies are carrying out covert drug tests on unsuspecting populations for future drug profit, Arms dealers are selling the latest guns and ammunition to Guerrillas and dictators, and religions have disconnected us from the Earth to seek solace in fantasies in an unseen heaven. It is only since I realized that Life will not allow itself to completely self destruct that I realized that Life must protect its original source of pure human DNA even though the gift of awareness that Life has given us has resulted in a destructive nature within most of us. Many may not agree but lose Africa and human Life is in trouble.