Living longer, healthier lives

the World Health Organisation (WHO) published its latest report “World Health Statistics 2016” which among other things, details the life expectancy rate in various countries of the world. As expected, some useful facts are included in the report which could guide policymakers and governments as it relates to improving the health and living conditions of citizens so that they could live longer and healthier lives.

“World Health Statistics: Monitoring Health for the SDGs” contains data from 194 countries on a range of mortality, disease and health system indicators, including life expectancy, illness and death from key diseases, health services and treatments, financial investment in health, and risk factors and behaviours that affect health.

The report points to the “dramatic gains” in life expectancy that have been made globally since 2000, but noted the fact that major inequalities persist within and among countries. For example, the report states that life expectancy increased by five years between 2000 and 2015, the fastest increase since the 1960s. The increase was greatest in the African region of WHO where life expectancy increased by 9.4 years to 60 years, driven mainly by improvements in child survival, progress in malaria control and expanded access to antiretrovirals for treatment of HIV.

The report adds: “Global life expectancy for children born in 2015 was 71.4 years (73.8 years for females and 69.1 years for males), but an individual child’s outlook depends on where he or she is born. 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. While 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.

This year’s World Health Statistics brings together the most recent data on the health-related targets within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015.

While the Millennium Development Goals focused on a narrow set of disease-specific health targets for 2015, the SDGs look to 2030 and are far broader in scope. For example, the SDGs include a broad health goal, “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” and calls for achieving universal health coverage.

Of note too is that the report includes data that illustrates inequalities in access to health services within countries – between a given country’s poorest residents and the national average for a set of reproductive, maternal and child health services.

Everyone wants to live a full, healthy and productive life. Some persons are very health conscious in their lifestyle habits; they eat healthy, exercise regularly and so on. But in addition to this, they expect that the State would make the necessary investments in ensuring that certain key interventions are made to support a healthy population; such as modern hospitals staffed with competent health professionals, specialised healthcare, high quality medical supplies, etc.

In Guyana, life expectancy rates over the past decade or so have seen remarkable improvements; and this is due to a number of factors. Guyana has a life expectancy rate of close to 71 years. Life expectancy has risen from 40 in the 1960s to 61 by 1970 and that remained the same by 1990. However, critical interventions in the health sector have allowed for further improvements in health care delivery which resulted in life expectancy rates going up to about 64 for males and 71 for females.

This country can now boast of a life expectancy rate that is similar to many other Caricom countries. However, in order to ensure that Guyana’s life expectancy rating improves further, Government must continue to make the necessary investments in the health sector with the aim of improving health care delivery; for example, the Specialty Hospital is needed urgently. Citizens must not only be able to access affordable health services but the services provided must be of an extremely high standard.