44 Per Cent Africans Suffer from Oral Diseases, Says WHO

Posted on: Tue 21-03-2023

A new report published yesterday by the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that around 44 per cent of the population in Africa suffers from oral diseases, and while the continent has experienced the sharpest rise in oral diseases over the last three decades, spending on treatment costs remains extremely low.

According to the report, oral health remains a low priority in many African countries, leading to inadequate financial and technical investment, which in turn undermines prevention and care services as well as oral health promotion.

It noted that around 70 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa countries spent less than $1 per person yearly on treatment costs for oral health in 2019, the latest year for which data is available.

“Half of the countries in the region do not have oral health policy documents. In addition, the region’s oral health workforce is chronically lacking, with a ratio of just 3.3 dentists per 100,000 people recorded between 2014 and 2019, approximately one-tenth of the global ratio. Such shortcomings have only been further compounded by the impact of COVID-19,” the report noted.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, on World Oral Health Day marked yesterday, said: “Oral health is integral to general health and well-being, yet it has been neglected in the region for much too long, often with severe and lasting consequences.

“While the most prevalent of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), oral health diseases are preventable and treatable. It’s crucial for countries to do more to increase access to affordable prevention and care services and ensure that people are equipped with the knowledge and skill on promoting oral health.”

The Africa regional summary of WHO global oral health status report released, yesterday, serves as a reference for policymakers and a wide range of stakeholders. In addition, it guides the advocacy process towards better prioritisation of oral health in the region to tackle this alarming oral health situation.

Africa has reportedly experienced an increase of more than 257 million in oral disease cases over the last 30 years, affecting people from early life to old age.

The NAN gathered that oral diseases such as dental cavity, gum diseases and tooth loss disproportionately impact marginalised groups, reflecting wider inequalities in access to health services. An example is the persisting prevalence of noma, a disease that occurs in contexts of extreme poverty and is primarily found in sub-Saharan Africa.

Noma destroys the mouth and face of mostly young children. If left untreated, it is fatal in 90 per cent of cases.

To reinforce oral health promotion, oral disease prevention and control in Africa, WHO member states adopted a historic resolution in 2021 that set out a bold vision for universal health coverage of oral health services by 2030. WHO has since developed a comprehensive Global Strategy on Oral Health, which was adopted by countries at the 2022 World Health Assembly.

In collaboration with different partners, the organisation has supported countries technically and financially in implementing regional and global oral health strategies, as well as building health worker capacity and strengthening integrated surveillance.

“I urge countries to prioritise oral health as part of NCDs and universal health care agendas and increase political and financial commitment. This requires a paradigm shift from treatment-oriented oral healthcare into more prevention and promotion approaches to address oral health inequality,” said Moeti.