At independence, the government pledged to provide free universal health care. It expanded services across the country and devised a comprehensive health plan. But Zambia's rapidly growing population and weak economy have made implementing this plan very difficult. The country has few doctors and nurses, and medical equipment, supplies and drugs are scarce. Life expectancy is low. On average, men live to their late thirties. Women live one or two years longer. Nearly half the population is under the age of fifteen.
Zambia has both state-run and private hospitals. Most private hospitals are funded by missions, but some have been set up by mining companies for their employees. There are more than 900 community health care centres and clinics across the country. International aid organizations also work in Zambia. Nevertheless, only half the people in rural areas have access to public health services. Great distances often separate villages, with only rough roads or trails in between. Transporting a sick person to a health care centre can be difficult.
When they are ill, many Zambians consult traditional healers as well as public health workers. These healers often look for underlying spiritual or social problems that may be causing a disease. Many of the herbal remedies that they prepare contain ingredients that drug companies use for commercial medicines. One common herb, munsokansoka, is a popular general remedy.

Many of Zambia's health problems come from infected water and chronic food shortages. Malaria is one of the leading causes of death for adults and children, and many people suffer from malnutrition. In the river valleys, tropical diseases such as sleeping sickness (carried by tsetse flies), river blindness (caused by blackfly bites) and schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia (caused by a flatworm that enters the bloodstream), affect thousands of Zambians. Tuberculosis, meningitis and measles are also serious health concerns. Cholera outbreaks still occur.

  Did you know?
AIDS is Zambia's biggest health challenge. The disease affects both women and men, and medication is either unavailable or too expensive for most of those infected. Even prevention programs suffer from a lack of resources. AIDS has devastated the working population of the country and left hundreds of thousands of children orphaned.
Organizations such as the Traditional Health Practitioners of Zambia (THPAZ) are seeking to form a national council. The Ministry of Health includes a traditional medicine unit, and the head of THPAZ is a full member of the Central Board of Health. Some Zambians believe that a system that combines traditional and Western-style approaches would lead to better health care.