Fifty Years of Independence – The Zambian Economy Part IV – Housing, Jobs, Poverty and Health

Elarm Chalusa
Elarm Chalusa

Fifty Years of Independence – The Zambian Economy Part IV – Housing, Jobs, Poverty and Health

So we are at the verge of celebrating our jubilee anniversary as a people, a country and a nation. But are we really going to celebrate or commemorate our political emancipation from colonial master Britain.

Yes political emancipation beckons celebration. But is this possible in the midst of gross poverty levels among our populace and when the bulk of the population has no access to basic health amenities. When a vast majority of nationals are unemployed and do not even have modest housing to call their homes? Will they have that joy outside all these walls of health, shelter and inability to live above the poverty datum line together with those that have them?

Let us reflect on a few pertinent facts and figures.


  • The Zambian population stands at 14,638,505 – CIA July 2014 estimates. [1]
  • The birth rate is 42.46 births/1000 – 4th highest in the world
  • Death rate 12.92/1000 – 21st in the world

While our birth and death rates seem so high, our population is growing at a steady rate of some 2.7% annually. [2]

How health in this population? This can be answered by delving into the various parameters hinging on the well being of the nation being:

  • Life expectancy at birth. This is quite informative about the health care facilities, the poverty levels and the general well being of the nation. The World Bank (2012 est)[3] puts this at 57 years while the CIA (ibid) caps it at a dismal 51.83 years! That means we are expected to have some very short life span indeed. But why, in the 21st Century, with all strides made in areas of medicine and related fields. Are we having peculiar heath challenges that restrict our survival and hence dwarf our longevity? What could it be? Genes, certainly not. May be the answer lies in our expenditure on health facilities.
  • Health care expenditure was 6.1% of GDP as at July 2011 (est) (ibid). This suggests that we are not prioritising our health as much as we should. In this regard, we are ranked 105th in the world. This is supported by the hospital bed density which is 2 beds/1000 patients and physician density of 0.07 per 1000. It follows that only 7 physicians attend to health needs of some 100,000 Zambians! Can we really survive well under these circumstances? Even, the 51 years life expectancy is a great stroke of luck – certainly.
  • Maternal and infant mortality rates are 440/1000 and 66.62/1000 being ranked 26th and 17th in the world respectively. The mortality rate is nearly half! How do expectant mothers reading this feel? It gives sad reading but it is good to face the facts. The odds are against them.
  • HIV/AIDS prevalence stands at 12.7% with 30,303 as at 2012 earning the nation 7th and 14th places in the world ranking respectively (ibid).
  • The degree of risk from major infectious diseases is classified as very high. This bracket includes:

o   Bacterial and protozoa diarrhoea

o   Hepatitis A

o   Typhoid fever

o   Malaria and dengue fever

o   Shistosomiasis

o   Rabies

This represents a lot of challenges facing our nation in the quest to have a healthy and productive population capable of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 and reducing child mortality at the same time (Millennium Development Goals 1 and 4).

The onus is on those with instruments of power to the creation, management and distribution of our wealth to take tested, community based strategic endeavours aimed at addressing the health issues expediently and consistently. It is possible to increase our life expectancy, reduce infant and maternal mortality rates and deaths resulting form HIV/AIDS significantly as well as improve the nation’s ability to handle challenges posed by major infectious disease cited above.  By the way, how on earth did we find ourselves having 2 hospital beds to cater for a 1000? And seven doctors per 100,000 Zambians? – After 50 years after independence?

We need to be independent from poor prioritisation and implementation of essential programs and projects to address key sectors of our economy – such as health. Does this not suggest why our economy is still limping in spite of modest growth? It can be much better and quickly so.



for mortality and infant death and life expectancy


Elarm Chalusa