Mauritania's public health system consists of administrative units and health facilities organized in pyramid style. As of 1999, total health care expenditure was estimated at 4.8% of GDP. In the same year, there were an estimated 0.1 physicians and 0.7 hospital beds per 1,000 people. In the mid-1990s, there were approximately 300 basic health units at the village level, about 130 health posts, and some 50 health centers. The health system is mostly public, but liberalization of private practice in the past several years has led to marked increase in the number of practitioners in the private sector—up to eight clinics in 1990. Mauritania's only major hospital is in Nouakchott. In 1985–95, only about 63% of the population had access to health care services. Private participation in the pharmaceutical sector has increased since 1987. Public facilities receive stocks from the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs. Drugs are distributed to patients at public facilities at no cost, but only 40% of demand can be met. Importation of narcotics is prohibited. In 2000, 37% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 33% had adequate sanitation.
The main health problems include malaria, tuberculosis, measles, dysentery, and influenza. Guinea worm was a major problem in 1995 with 1,762 reported cases. Pregnancy complications are common due to unhygienic conditions and lack of medical care. In non-drought years, the staple diet of milk and millet is nutritionally adequate, if somewhat deficient in vitamin C. In 1990–94, immunization rates for children up to one year old were: tuberculosis, 93%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 50%; polio, 50%; and measles, 53%. The rates for DPT and measles in 1999 were, respectively, 40% and 62%. Forty-four percent of children under five were malnourished as of 1999. The goiter rate in 1996 was 31 per 100 school-age children.
The average life expectancy is among the lowest in the world— an estimated 52 years for both men and women in 2000. The fertility rate was 5.7 in 2000. Only 3% of married women aged 15–49 were using some form of contraceptive in 1990. As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 42.54 and 13.34 per 1,000 people. The infant mortality rate was 101 per 1,000 live births. The maternal mortality rate was 550 per 100,000 live births in 1998. Twenty-five percent of women, or approximately 300,000 women, underwent female genital mutation in 1994. No specific law has been issued against it.
As of 1999, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS was estimated at 6,600 and deaths from AIDS that year were estimated at 610. HIV prevalence was 0.5 per 100 adults.