Life expectancy among Kenyans has drastically gone up due to improved health and nutrition standards.
A new report released this week shows that Kenyans will live six years longer than was the case in 2010.
Life expectancy for Kenyans has shot up to 62 years from 58 last year, according to the 2012 World Population Data.
The data released by the United States of America-based Population Reference Bureau shows that Kenya’s life expectancy – the average number of years a newborn can expect to live – is now the highest in East Africa.
Kenya has overtaken Tanzania, which had the highest life expectancy of 57 years only two years ago and has remained the same.
Uganda is trailing at 53 years.
According to the data, Kenyan women, at 63, are still expected to live longer than their male counterparts.
Population and health experts were quick to attribute the changing fortunes of Kenyans to the generally improved quality of living in the last 10 years. During this time, the number of people dying from HIV-Aids related ailments has gone down while survival rates among new borns are increasing.
According to the head of population programmes at the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, Mr Samuel Ogolla, the campaign to provide anti-retrovirals to people living with HIV/Aids has helped reduce deaths.
This has meant that people can now live with the virus for as many as 20 years, Mr Ogolla said.
The supply of the medicines has been accompanied by improved health services, which included posting nurses to health centres.
Mr Ogolla was referring to the 4,200 nurses recruited two years ago under the Economic Stimulus Programme.
Most of them are working at the Constituency Development Fund-built health centres, also seen as one of the greatest contributors to healthy living.
“Most of our people now sleep under mosquito-treated nets, helping to reduce the number of malaria cases, which killed many more lives a few years ago,” Mr Ogolla said.
Last year, malaria killed 28,360 people, according to the Economic Survey 2012.
Mr Ogolla, a former senior official with the Kenya National Population Council, said the construction of roads since 2003 meant that sick people were able to access health centres.
“It is now easier to save a life because vehicles can access interior areas of the country, which couldn’t have been done before,” he said.
But the fact that many people are living longer will throw the country into a new crisis as it struggles to ensure quality lives for older people.
According to the 2009 Population and Housing Census, the population of people aged 60 years and above was 1.8 million.
But the country programme manager at Helpage Kenya, an organisation that works with older people, said the number was expected to shoot up following the increased quality of living.
In fact, Mr Erastus Itumbi said, the number of older people above 60 years was growing at a fast rate and now stood at more than two million.
“We are staring at a crisis,” Mr Itumbi said, adding the country was ill-prepared to handle a large number of older people.
He said the number of older people was growing much faster because the country had conquered may communicable diseases while fewer Kenyans were dying before the age of 50 following increasing use of anti-retrovirals.
“Combining disease and age sends older people to the grave fast,” Mr Itumbi said.
According to Mr Itumbi, the fact that many Kenyans were living longer than before was proof that campaigns on healthy nutrition were bearing fruit.
Although the number of Kenyans living in poverty was still high, at 46 per cent, the figure had dropped 10 percentage points from a decade ago.
That means many people were able to afford better lives.
Overall, the country’s economy, which dipped from 7.1 per cent following post-election violence in 2007/2008 has improved steadily. It grew by 4.5 per cent last year.
He said the government could still do better in ensuring that older people lived longer.
The official termed as inadequate the cash transfer of Sh2,000 a month for only 48,000 extremely poor old people.
This financial year Sh1 billion has been set aside to pay old, poor people.
The money, Mr Itumbi said, was not enough for the estimated 1.5 million old people who were never in formal employment in their working years and therefore have no pension.
MPs and lobby groups have been pushing for an increase in the amount of money to ensure that all old people are paid the stipend.
Others have also suggested that the senior citizens be issued with vouchers to access services such as electricity and water for free.
They should also be allowed access to a free and universal health care scheme.
According to the Population Reference Bureau report, the fertility rate — the average number of children a woman would have assuming that current birth rates remain constant throughout her child bearing years — stands at 4.4 children, about the same as it was in 2009.
The child-bearing age for women is considered to be between 15 and 49.
The report notes that worldwide, nearly all future population growth will be in the less developed countries.
“The poorest of these countries will see the greatest percentage increase,” it says.
It is expected that developed countries as a whole will experience little or no population growth this century.