Health and Healthcare
Ever since Equatorial Guinea's independence from Spain and the reign of Francisco Macias Nguema, the overall health of the population has been inconsistent and generally poor. Before independence, Equatorial Guinea was considered a flourishing, prosperous nation, with a very capable medical infrastructure and a healthy population. Malaria, trypanosomiasis (African sleeping sickness), tuberculosis and leprosy had all been somewhat contained through treatment programs and vaccinations. Drugs were in constant supply from Spain and the thirteen hospitals throughout the country were efficient and provided adequate care (2). Since then however, the government's neglect of the health concerns and needs of the population has led to an increase in easily preventable diseases and deaths: diseases which seemed under control as early as the 1950s while Equatorial Guinea was still in the clutches of colonialism.
Why is health important?
The health of the population of any country is extremely important. It
seems tragically unfair that people in Equatorial Guinea or any other
developing nation should be forced to suffer and die from curable diseases
and illnesses. Everyone should have the right to a long and healthy life,
and it is unfair for a government to neglect its populous. Not only is
the health of a population a moral issue but sick citizens can negatively
affect a country in several ways. In general, tired, sick and certainly
dead workers are far less productive and as a result business and the
economy seriously suffers. When children are sick and bear the pain of
poor health, an education is often passed over and the very tools and
knowledge which may help the next generation in its quest to improve their
lot will be missed. Although in the western world we often take our health
and ability to seek treatment and medicine for granted, the health of
a population should be the first priority of any government. Today in
Equatorial Guinea it is extremely apparent that the health of the population
is a serious problem. Average life expectancies are low, child and infant
mortality rates are high, and diseases which used to be under control
have been affecting large portions of the Equatoguinean population.
A good statistic to measure the health of a population is the life expectancy.
The average life expectancy at birth of a person born in Equatorial Guinea
according to the 2001 World Health Report, by the World Health Organization,
is just over 53 years. This stands in stark contrast to life expectancies
for Americans at 77 years or Norwegians at 80. There are a number of reasons
for why this number is so low. Newborn and child deaths are also a serious
health problem. Infant and child mortality rates are also frequently used
in order to site poor health in a country. Equatorial Guinea's mortality
rates for infants and children are very high. Although the numbers have
slowly dropped from 1988 when infant mortality rates stood at 144 deaths
per 1,000 births, today, 91 babies die for every 1,000 born (3). Child
mortality rates, (the probability of children under the age of 5 dying)
are still very high at 150 deaths per 1,000 children (World Health Organisation).
What are the underlying causes of poor health?
There are a number of reasons for why the health of the population has
stagnated and even digressed in some instances. With respect to the growing
AIDS crisis; the rise in prostitution coupled with the fact that Equatorial
Guinea is a very religious country where 90% of the population is catholic
and the church does not support the use of contraceptives has lead to
the easy spread of the disease. It does not help that the majority Fang
population is also traditionally a polygamous group and is also strongly
against condoms and other forms of contraceptives.
Clean drinking water is often very important in order to maintain a healthy
life. In urban areas throughout Equatorial Guinea unsanitary communal
taps lead to the spread of diseases including malaria, worms, and gastrointestinal
diseases (3). Clean drinking water has also been identified as one of
the main factors leading to poor health and a rise in the number of cases
of diseases like tetanus, typhoid and hepatic amebiasis. These are all
mostly spread through unsanitary living conditions and dirty or contaminated
water. According to a study done in 1993 by the United Nations, only 17%
of the population, mostly those in urban areas had access to potable drinking
Solution: Medical school scholarship programs
With all the oil money coming into Equatorial Guinea, the Obiang government
is now more then ever capable of solving this doctor shortage crisis and
thereby improving the health throughout the country.
It seems unlikely that President Obiang will ever do anything to dramatically
improve the situation in his home country but sadly, the future of the
country may depend on him. With the new oil money coming in, the possibilities
seem endless, and if this money is eventually diverted to where it is
needed, similar to what Chad or Cameroon are doing (see solutions for
oil section) then perhaps Equatorial Guinea does
have a chance.
There are several solutions that can be achieved with money. Firstly,
an increase in doctor's salaries would greatly increase interest in working
in Equatorial Guinea. The government could easily do this. Perhaps a better
and more feasible solution though would be to provide scholarship money
to bright students. Scholarship money would allow students to travel to
other countries and receive top notch medical training at the best universities
around the world. If the government gave out these scholarships with the
stipulation that the students were required to come back and practice
medicine inside Equatorial Guinea, it is very possible that the number
of doctors able to provide for the population would rise and alleviate
some of the health issues in the country. This may seem simple, but at
this point the government needs to do anything it can to bring in more
doctors and quell the health needs of the small country.