People are living longer despite care inequalities

The World Health Organization report that life expectancy has increased by 5 years, but data show inequalities in access to health services among countries.

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A new global report finds that people are living longer, despite disparities in healthcare access.

The World Health Statistics series is an annual snapshot of global health compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The World Health Statistics 2016 report focuses on the health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by all of the United Nations’ member states in September 2015.

The SDGs aim at achieving a more sustainable future for all. The main goals include eliminating poverty and inequality, providing affordable and clean energy, reducing the impact of climate change, giving better access to education, and promoting peace.

The SDGs differ from the Millennium Development Goals, which range from reducing extreme poverty and the spread of HIV to providing universal primary education — all by 2015. The list of SDGs is more comprehensive and looks ahead to 2030.

Far from universal health coverage

Global life expectancy increased from 2000 to 2015, representing the fastest increase since the 1960s. The most significant gain occurred in the WHO African Region, thanks to improvements in child survival, malaria control, and access to treatments of HIV. Here, life expectancy increased by 9.4 years to 60 years.

In spite of global gains, inequality persists. When it comes to children, the report shows that life expectancy depends on the country of birth. Newborns in 29 high-income countries have an average life expectancy of 80 years or more, while newborns in 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have a life expectancy of under 60 years.

The survival for women and men shows similar trends. Women in Japan and men in Switzerland can expect to live the longest: about 87 years and 81 years, respectively. Meanwhile, people in Sierra Leone of either sex have the world’s lowest life expectancy: around 51 years for women and 49 years for men.

“The gains have been uneven. Supporting countries to move towards universal health coverage based on strong primary care is the best thing we can do to make sure no one is left behind,” says Dr. Margaret Chan, former director-general of the WHO.

World Health Statistics 2016 measures access to 16 essential services, and results show that universal health coverage is still a major concern, especially in the African and eastern Mediterranean regions. In addition, many people have to pay high out-of-pocket health costs.

The report shows inequalities in access to health services among countries. Swaziland, Costa Rica, Maldives, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Jordan, and Mongolia have the most equal access to services for reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health in their respective regions.

Addressing challenges by tackling risks

World Health Statistics 2016 shows that millions of people die prematurely every year, including:

  • over 10 million deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer before the age of 70
  • 5.9 million deaths before the age of 5
  • 4.3 million deaths due to air pollution from cooking fuels
  • 3 million deaths resulting from outdoor pollution
  • 1.25 million deaths due to road traffic injuries
  • 303,000 women’s deaths from complications of pregnancy and childbirth
  • 800,000 people die from suicide
  • 475,000 people die from murder

In addition, millions of people contract HIV, tuberculosis, or malaria — collectively about 225 million people every year. And 1.7 billion people require treatment for tropical diseases that the WHO classifies as neglected.

The report also points to significant data gaps that will need to be filled to track progress toward the SDGs. For example, approximately 53 percent of deaths globally are not recorded, although countries such as Brazil, China, the Islamic Republic of Iran, South Africa, and Turkey have made considerable progress.

In order to address the challenges, it is crucial to tackle the risk factors that contribute to disease and death worldwide. The WHO emphasize that changes are necessary to reduce the following figures:

  • 3.1 billion people mainly use polluting fuels for cooking.
  • 1.1 billion people smoke at least one tobacco product.
  • 1.8 billion people consume contaminated water.
  • 946 million people have bowel movements in the open.
  • 156 million children younger than 5 years have restricted development.
  • 42 million children younger than 5 years are overweight.
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