Disease control hands low-income areas longer life, healthier people

Thursday May 28 2020

Child vaccination.

A high turnout for child vaccination in a health centre in Togo's capital Lome. PHOTO | BSIP via AFP 

PAULINE KAIRU
By PAULINE KAIRU
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People in low-income countries are living longer and healthier lives due to better control of deadly diseases like HIV/Aids and malaria, says the World Health Organization.

In the 2020 World Health Statistics published by WHO, it is shown life expectancy rose by 21 per cent or 11 years between 2000 and 2016 in low income countries.

Comparatively, growth in life expectancy seems to have stagnated in higher income countries with an increase of four per cent or three years only.

In 2016, it was 18.1 years lower in low-income countries (62.7 years) than in high-income countries (80.8 years). Since 2000, that gap has narrowed.

The recent life expectancy gains in low-income countries are largely due to major reductions in mortality in children under five years in low-income countries, a reduction of 53 per cent from 143 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 68 in 2018.

THE CONTRAST

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Yet there still exists persistent and substantial gap between average life expectancy in low- and in high-income countries. In low-income countries overall, fewer than three out of five newborns are expected to reach the age of 70 and more than one third of all deaths are among children younger than 15 years.

Premature deaths there are due primarily to lower respiratory infections, diarrhoeal diseases, malaria, pre-term birth complications and HIV and Aids.

In high-income countries, 80 per cent of newborns are expected to live beyond the age of 70. Ischaemic heart disease, lung cancer and suicides are the top three causes of premature death there.

Globally, significant progress towards several health-related SDGs is credited for increased average life expectancy at birth by 5.5 years globally between 2000 and 2016 from 66.5 to 72 years.

But WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, despite the good news, the progress wasn’t happening fast enough to meet the SDGs.

TWO SIDES, SAME COIN

“And this progress will be further thrown off track by Covid-19. The pandemic highlights the urgent need for all countries to invest in strong health systems and primary health care, as the best defence against outbreaks like Covid-19, and against the many other health threats people face every day. Health systems and health security are two sides of the same coin,” said Dr Tedros.

Progress has stalled in some areas like immunisation that would have seen the numbers improve even further.

Gains may be reversed during Covid-19 pandemic due to shortage of services within and outside the health system, while prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart and lung disease, and stroke have been affected by Covid-19 too.