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J Trop Med Hyg. 1993 Oct; 96(5): 291-300.

The disease pattern of elderly medical patients in Rwanda, central Africa.

Mets TF.

Department of Internal Medicine, University Hospital, Butare, Rwanda.

In a study of the disease pattern of the elderly in Rwanda, all patients aged 60 or more, hospitalized in a one-year period at the Medical Department, University Hospital, Butare, were examined prospectively. One hundred and ninety-two patients were included; most were subsistence farmers having a mainly vegetarian diet and living in large families. Infections (37.5% of the patients) and liver cirrhosis (31.8%) were the problems most frequently encountered. Primary hepatocellular cancer was diagnosed in 5.7% of the patients and was the most frequent malignancy. The hospitalized elderly occupied 17.5% of the available beds in the Medical Department. Their disease pattern was different from that of younger patients, making heavier demands on the medical resources. Malaria and upper intestinal inflammation were less frequent in the elderly; liver cirrhosis, primary hepatocellular cancer, pneumonia, prostatic cancer, cardiovascular pathology, chronic renal pathology and chronic lung disease were more prevalent. Several age-related conditions frequently observed in industrialized countries (e.g. coronary heart disease, stroke, gallstones, renal cysts, dementia) were rare. The study thus illustrates the concept of 'secondary aging': to the primary changes induced by the aging process, additional alterations are added which depend upon the environment and the lifestyle, resulting in a varying disease pattern. Health policies thus must take into account that the demographic transition in developing countries may result in a pattern of diseases different from that seen in industrialized countries; care must be taken when transposing data obtained from elderly populations in industrialized countries.

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