The African Century

“In demographic terms, it seems, the Asian century could be followed by the African century…Whether Africa is able to prepare for its coming population boom may well be one of the most important long-term challenges the world faces right now.” So says Max Fisher in the Washington Post article “The amazing, surprising, Africa-driven demographic future of the Earth, in 9 charts.” I found these charts and Fisher’s commentary incredibly interesting and well-worth exploring (especially with the future of health care resources in mind).  As he points out, the next century being the ‘African century’ will have good, bad, and unforeseen consequences. Even if it is does not turn out to be the ‘African century,’ continued population growth seems to becertain and will put increasing burdens on resources in African countries. With more people, there is need for more water, more food, more jobs, more sources for transport, etc. More people also mean the need for more health care and thus, increased capacity for laboratory services.  Yet another argument for the importance of expanded and improved laboratory (and all health care) services in the next decade.

Another interesting statistic from Max Fisher’s charts is that life expectancy in Africa in the next 80 years is expected to increase by 50%. However, in 2090, it will still not be equivalent to that in the U.S., Europe, South America or Asia. From a health care perspective this is interesting both in the reasons why it will still be the lowest life expectancy in the world, and, in how health care is affected by a growing aging population (much like challenges we are beginning to see and expecting to see expand in the coming years in the U.S.). However, with this in mind, take a close look at his chart number 9 on dependency ratios (the ratio of the population under age 15 and over age 64 and thus ‘dependent’ on others and the government to provide for them). Africa’s dependency ratio is projected to decrease from 80% today to 60% by 2055, while the dependency ratios in the rest of the world are projected to increase. This could mean a more productive work force, and more people to take care of a population that is living longer. As Mr. Fisher points out, however, a large younger population can result in increased political instability.

While these charts are all projections and any number of factors could completely alter the course of these projections, it is fascinating to think about and study, and certainly worthwhile preparing for.

I originally stumbled across Mr. Fisher’s charts through a different article of his in the Washington Post called “40 more maps that explain the world.”  This one is equally fascinating and I could have spent hours absorbed in the various maps.

On an unrelated note, a quick update to my post from last month: President Obama nominated Dr. Deborah Birx to become the next Global AIDS Coordinator. Dr. Birx has spent her career focusing on immunology, vaccine research, and global health. From the laboratory-strengthening perspective she is an exciting choice for this role. Her nomination still needs to be approved by the Senate. Her bio on the CDC website.



-Marie Levy spent over five years working at American Society for Clinical Pathology in the Global Outreach department.

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