Waterborne diseases wreak havoc on the people of Africa. Our continent is one of the worst affected by these illnesses due to the shortage of safe and clean drinking water. All of these diseases infect humans when they consume contaminated water or when they eat food that has been prepared using this contaminated water. Here is a breakdown of the most common waterborne illnesses and how to prevent them.


Cholera is a waterborne bacterial disease that targets the small intestine. Its symptoms include severe diarrhoea and vomiting, and it can often prove fatal. It is estimated that around 500 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are at risk of contracting it.

Typhoid Fever

This bacterial disease causes fever, intestinal upsets, and red spots on the stomach and chest. Every year, there are approximately 400 000 cases of typhoid fever recorded in Africa. The good news is that it is partly preventable by vaccine.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A causes a liver infection in the infected person. Symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, loss of appetite, and fatigue. It is contracted through contaminated water but, like typhoid fever, can be spread through human contact too.


This is an intestinal infection that is often responsible for watery and/or greasy stools. It can also cause significant intestinal bloating. Statistics show that children are at a much higher risk of contracting giardia.


Dysentery is also an infection of the intestines. Along with watery diarrhoea, those with this disease will often notice blood and mucus in their stool. While not usually fatal, children and the elderly have to be extremely cautious as death is possible due to dehydration if medical care is not timeously sought out.

How to Protect Yourself from Waterborne Diseases

The number one rule is to avoid drinking water that might be contaminated. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

  • Be sure to boil your water before drinking it or to consume safely bottled water from a reputable supplier.
  • It is also imperative that you wash your hands regularly, especially before preparing food, and that you thoroughly disinfect your food preparation surfaces.
  • Never drink water from streams, lakes, rivers, or streams.
  • When travelling, always avoid eating food or buying water sold by street vendors.

Keep all of this advice in mind and you should be able to optimise your health and avoid falling victim to the various waterborne diseases that are so prevalent within our continent. Stay safe!