Dramatic gains in life expectancy have been made globally since 2000, but major health inequalities persist within and among countries, a new report published today by the World Health Organization (WHO) has found.
According to this year’sWorld Health Statistics: Monitoring Health for the SDGs, life expectancy increased by five years between 2000 and 2015, the fastest increase since the 1960s. Those gains reverse declines during the 1990s, when life expectancy fell in Africa because of the AIDS epidemic and in Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union, WHO noted in apress release.
The gains made over the last 15 years are the largest since the 1960s, when the world — especially Europe and Japan — saw broad socio-economic improvements linked to the recovery from World War II, WHO said.
On average, a child born in 2015 can expect to live 71.4 years — with females (73.8 years) having better prospects than males (69.1 years), according to data published in WHO’s annual World Health Statistics report.
The report shows that newborns in 29 countries – all of them high-income – have an average life expectancy of 80 years or more, while newborns in 22 others – all of them in sub-Saharan Africa – have life expectancy of less than 60 years.
With an average lifespan of 86.8 years, women in Japan can expect to live the longest. Switzerland enjoys the longest average survival for men, at 81.3 years. People in Sierra Leone have the world’s lowest life expectancy for both sexes: 50.8 years for women and 49.3 years for men, WHO said.
Director-general of the UN agency, Margaret Chan, said major strides had been made against “preventable and treatable diseases”, especially through widened access to anti-retroviral therapy for HIV.
The last 15 years have helped reverse the regressions seen through 1990s, when the AIDS epidemic ravaged much of Africa sparking declining health indicators across the continent.
Despite progress in the world’s poorer countries, WHO stressed that there remain significant life expectancy gaps between developed and developing nations.
The data indicates that a female child born in Japan currently has the longest average lifespan at 86.8 years. For men, Switzerland offers the most promising outlook, with a life expectancy of 81.3 years.
Sierra Leone ominously holds last place for both women and men, at 50.8 years and 49.3 respectively.
WHO pointed to several key areas where advances were essential in order to raise the average lifespan further, including reducing the number of smokers worldwide — currently 1.1 billion – and providing clean water to the 1.8 billion people who drink contaminated water on a regular basis.
Targets of the Sustainable Development Goals
WHO highlighted that his year’s report brings together the most recent data on the health-related targets within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015. The report highlights significant data gaps that will need to be filled in order to reliably track progress towards the health-related SDGs.