From Fred Ezeh Abuja
A World Health Organization (WHO) assessment report showed that healthy life expectancy in Africa increased by 10 years per person between 2000 and 2019.
Similarly, the report confirmed that there has been slight progress in other regions of the world, as the assessment report also pointed out that global healthy life expectancy has increased by just five years.
The report went on to explain that healthy life expectancy simply means the number of years a person is expected to remain in good health, and it rose to 56 years in 2019, compared to 46 in 2000.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said that improvements in the provision of basic health services, advances in reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, and advances in controlling infectious diseases contributed to a rapid expansion of 2005 HIV, tuberculosis and malaria control efforts to achieve this feat.
She confirmed that coverage of essential health services improved to 46 percent on average in 2019, compared to 24 percent in 2000, and that the most significant achievements have been in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, but success has come through dramatic increases has been disrupted by hypertension, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases and the lack of health services targeting these diseases.
dr Moeti said: “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. More people are living healthier lives, longer lives, with fewer threats from infectious diseases, and with better access to care and disease prevention services.”
She expressed concerns that health gains could be jeopardized if countries refuse to step up action to address the threat of cancer and other noncommunicable diseases.
The WHO said progress 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, noting that African countries are, on average, experiencing greater disruptions to essential services compared to other regions reported.
“More than 90 percent of the 36 countries participating in a 2021 WHO survey reported one or more disruptions to essential health services, with immunization, neglected tropical diseases and nutrition services being more likely to be impacted by disruptions. However, 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. Unfortunately, most governments in Africa fund less than 50 percent of their national health budgets, resulting in large funding gaps.
“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 prepared to tackle the next pathogen head on,” said Dr. Moeti.
However, the WHO said that one of the key actions to improve access to health services is for governments to reduce catastrophic household out-of-pocket spending, stating that when families spend less than 10 percent of their income, health spending is considered non-catastrophic from health spending, regardless of their poverty line. “Unfortunately, domestic spending has stagnated or increased in 15 countries over the past 20 years,” it said.
WHO recommended that countries accelerate their efforts to improve protection against financial risk, rethink and refocus health service delivery, with a focus on including non-transferable health services as part of essential health services, community engagement and inclusion of the private sector should lie.
It also recommends setting up sub-national surveillance systems to help countries identify early warning signs of health threats and system failures.