The people of Chad have always used traditional medicine to treat themselves and their livestock. European and American missionaries introduced Western-style medicine in the early 20th century. The French also established a rudimentary health care system during their occupation of the country.

Since independence in the 1960s, the government has tried to extend the health care system. With foreign aid, new medical facilities have been built and many health care professionals have been trained. At first, health services were available to all citizens for free. In recent years, a system of payment for treatment and medicine has been introduced. This has resulted in a higher standard of health care, but it means that the very poor no longer have access to medical services.

Most hospitals are located in cities. Facilities in rural areas are limited. There are only about 1.5 doctors per 100,000 people. There are few specialists. People in the Sahel and Saharan regions and in some areas of the south have to travel long distances to receive medical treatment.

Chad has a high infant mortality rate: about 92 deaths per 1,000 live births. Nevertheless, the population of Chad is growing at a rate of 2.65% per year. It is estimated that one-half of the population of the capital, N'Djamena, is under 16 years of age.

Infectious and parasitic diseases pose a challenge to Chad's health system. Tuberculosis is common and AIDS is on the increase. Outbreaks of cholera and meningitis have occurred, especially in the capital and in the highly populated southern regions. Cases of bilharzia (caused by a water-borne flatworm that enters the bloodstream through the skin) and river blindness (caused by black-fly bites) are frequent. The guinea worm, a type of parasite, can cause great suffering. Malaria is a constant problem. Across the country, various international non-governmental organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the Carter Foundation, are working to reduce these problems.

   Did you know?
Drought can cause malnutrition and widespread famine in Chad. In 1984, the drought was so severe that Lake Chad completely dried up.
   Did you know?
Many herbal remedies developed hundreds of years ago are still in use today. For example, an infusion made by boiling the leaves of the neem tree is inhaled by people suffering from malaria.