Healthy life expectancy in Africa increases by almost ten years – World

**Brazzaville – **Healthy life expectancy in the African region increased by an average of 10 years per person between 2000 and 2019, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) assessment report. This increase is greater than any other region in the world over the same period. The report also notes that the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could jeopardize these huge gains.

The Tracking Universal Health Coverage in the WHO African Region 2022 report shows that healthy life expectancy – or the number of years a person can be in good health – increased to 56 years in 2019, compared to 46 in 2000, but still well below the global average of 64, over the same period global healthy life expectancy increased by just five years.

Improvements in the provision of basic health services, advances in reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, and advances in controlling infectious diseases – thanks to the rapid expansion of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria control efforts from 2005 onwards – have helped increase healthy life expectancy to extend. On average, coverage of essential health services improved to 46% in 2019, compared to 24% in 2000. The most significant gains have been made in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, but this has been offset by dramatic increases in hypertension, diabetes and others non-communicable diseases is negated by the lack of health services targeting these diseases.

“The sharp increase in healthy life expectancy over the past two decades is a testament to the region’s commitment to improving the health and well-being of its population. At its core, this means more people are living healthier lives, living longer, are less at risk of infectious diseases, and have better access to care and disease prevention services,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “But progress must not stall. Unless countries step up action to address the threat of cancer and other noncommunicable diseases, health gains could be jeopardized.”

Advances in healthy life expectancy could also be undermined by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic unless robust catch-up plans are put in place. On average, African countries reported greater disruptions to essential services compared to other regions. More than 90% of the 36 countries participating in a 2021 WHO survey reported one or more disruptions in essential health services, with immunization, neglected tropical diseases and nutrition services being more likely to be affected by disruptions.

Efforts have been made to restore essential services affected by the pandemic. However, to improve health services and ensure they are adequate, of good quality and accessible to all, it is crucial that governments increase public health funding. Most governments in Africa fund less than 50% of their national health budgets, resulting in large funding gaps. Only Algeria, Botswana, Cabo Verde, Eswatini, Gabon, Seychelles and South Africa fund more than 50% of their national health budgets.

“COVID-19 has shown the importance of investing in health to keep a country safe. The better Africa handles pandemics and other health threats, the more our people and economies thrive. I urge governments to invest in health and be ready to tackle the next pathogen head on,” said Dr. Moeti.

One of the most important steps governments can take to improve access to healthcare is for governments to reduce catastrophic household out-of-pocket spending. Health spending is considered non-catastrophic when families spend less than 10% of their income on health spending, regardless of their level of poverty. Over the past 20 years, home spending has stagnated or increased in 15 countries.

The WHO report also analyzed differences in healthy life expectancy and health care coverage by country’s income level and geographic location. High- and upper-middle-income countries tend to have better health care and longer healthy life expectancies at birth than lower-income countries, with about 10 additional years of healthy life expectancy.

The report recommends that countries accelerate their efforts to improve financial risk protection, rethink and refocus health service delivery, with a focus on including non-communicable health services as part of essential health services that involves communities and engages the private sector . It is also recommended that sub-national system monitoring systems be put in place to enable countries to better identify early warning signs of health threats and system failures.


The WHO today held a press conference chaired by Dr. Lindiwe Makubalo, Deputy Director, WHO Regional Office for Africa. She was joined by Professor Muhammad Ali Pate, Julio Frenk Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health; and Mr Moses Kitele, the Planning Director of the Botswana Ministry of Health.

Also present from the WHO Regional Office for Africa were Dr. Humphrey Karamagi, Senior Technical Officer, Health Systems Development, Dr. Phionah Atuhebwe, Medical Officer for Vaccine Introduction, Dr. Patrick Otim, Health Emergency Officer, and Opeayo Ogundiran, Technical Officer.

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