Anaemia – An African Context

An overview of anaemia in Africa

Although malaria remains the disease of the highest public health importance in Africa, anaemia is likewise of great concern in the region. The health implication of anaemia is even more impactful in women and children, who are especially susceptible to the disorder.

What is anaemia?

Anaemia is the deficiency of blood cells, particularly the red blood cells that transport oxygen and nutrients around the body and remove waste before sending them to the necessary excretory organs.

Blood is made up of cells which include white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. The red blood cells carry out highly specific functions which include the transport of oxygen around the body. The different tissues and organs need oxygen to function, and loss of oxygen can lead to their death or partial loss of function.

Because of the importance of the functions of the red blood cells, a healthy count is needed for proper functioning of the different tissues, organs and systems. The part of the red blood cells that transport oxygen is haemoglobin. Anaemia is thus the deficiency of the oxygen transporting element of the blood which is haemoglobin and found in red blood cells.

Causes of anaemia

Anaemia can be caused by different factors which include genetic and environmental factors. The genetic factors lead to the formation of an abnormal form of red blood cells which significantly reduces the quantity of healthy red blood cells that can efficiently transport oxygen. Environmental factors can also lead to changes that affect the production of red blood cells.

The destruction of red blood cells can also lead to anaemia. Anaemia can result from conditions that destroy red blood cells at a rate that is not proportionate to the rate at which they are produced. It takes about a week for the production of red blood cells.

Deficiency of iron is another cause of anaemia. Iron is a major part of red blood cells as it is needed in the formation of haemoglobin. When a person is consistently on a diet that is low in iron, the production of red blood cells is affected, and this could lead to anaemia.

Prevalence of anaemia in Africa

According to WHO, women and children are more vulnerable to anaemia and are thus the demographic of concern. Research has also shown that anaemia is significantly more prevalent in Africa. WHO reports stated that about 17 million African pregnant women are anaemic, which is about 57% of the population of pregnant women in Africa. The reports also stated that 48% and 66% of non-pregnant women and young children in Africa are anaemic.

The overall consequence of anaemia is the inability to achieve full productivity because of the reduced supply of oxygen to the tissue, organs and systems. Anaemic women also tend to give birth to low-weight children, some of whom die at birth.

The scourge of anaemia in Africa is significant and has attracted the attention of stakeholders with efforts from the grassroots to the highest level of healthcare.


Hotez PJ, Molyneux DH (2008) Tropical Anemia: One of Africa’s Great Killers and a Rationale for Linking Malaria and Neglected Tropical Disease Control to Achieve a Common Goal. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 2(7): e270.
Anemia Prevalence, Causes, and Consequences. Retrieved from (Accessed on 20th August 2018)


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