Life expectancy in Africa increases by almost 10 years

Life expectancy in Africa increased by nearly 10 years from 46 to 56 years between 2000 and 2019, according to the World Health Organization’s State of Health in Africa report released on Thursday.

However, WHO officials note that this is still well below the global average of 64 years. WHO Deputy Regional Director for Africa Lindiwe Makubalo warned that life expectancy gains could easily be lost unless countries become stronger and invest more in health systems development.

Speaking from the Republic of Congo’s capital, Brazzaville, she said Africa has made a good start in this direction over the past two decades. On average, she found, access to essential services like basic health care improved to 46% in 2019, compared to 24% in 2000.

“Other factors include improvements in reproductive, maternal, newborn and infant health,” Makubalo said. “In addition, the rapid expansion of health services to combat infectious diseases such as HIV and TB and malaria over the past 15 years has been a powerful catalyst for improved healthy life expectancy.”

While progress has been made in preventing and treating infectious diseases, the report finds that NCD health services are lagging behind. It states that the dramatic rise in high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and other noncommunicable diseases could jeopardize health advances if these conditions continue to be neglected.

According to the report, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused greater disruption to essential health services on the African continent compared to other regions of the world.

Makubalo said these disorders could affect estimates of healthy life expectancy.

“As governments work to restore affected health services, it is critical to not only work towards bringing health systems back to pre-pandemic levels. Rather, significant improvements are important and needed to ensure quality, equity and accessible services for all,” she said.

The report notes that some progress has been made towards achieving universal health coverage, but it is far from sufficient. According to health officials, one of the most important things governments can do to improve access to health services is for governments to increase their public health budgets.

That, they say, would reduce the catastrophic household out-of-pocket spending that is pushing millions of people into poverty.

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