Kenyans are living longer than they did in the previous decade, a report shows.
Today, most people can expect to live into their 60s and beyond, thanks in part to the control of several deadly diseases like HIV and malaria, shows a World Health Organization (WHO) analysis.
Kenyans’ life expectancy at birth (or how long, on average, a newborn can expect to live, if current death rates do not change unexpectedly), has increased from 50 years for men and 49 years for women to 64.4 years and 68.9 years respectively.
On average, women are living longer than men. The recent life expectancy gains are credited to the consistent control of several deadly diseases like HIV and malaria, as well as interventions on other communicable diseases especially through immunisation.
These are also credited to major reductions in mortality in children under five years, from 123 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 41 in 2018, according to the 2020 World Health Statistics published by WHO last week. Maternal mortality ratio (per 100,000 live births) has also gone down from about 1,000 in 2000 to 342 in 2018.
WHO’s statistics showed that life expectancy has risen by 21 per cent or 11 years since 2000 in low income countries. Comparatively, growth in life expectancy seems to have stagnated in higher income countries with an increase of four per cent or three years only.
And it is estimated that by 2050 the world’s population aged 60 years and older is expected to total two billion, up from 900 million in 2015.
Today, 125 million people are aged 80 years or older. By 2050, there will be almost 434 million people in this age group worldwide. By 2050, 80 per cent of all older people will live in low- and middle-income countries.
Globally, life expectancy has been improving at a rate of more than three years per decade since 1950, with the exception of the 1990s during which period progress on life expectancy stalled in Africa because of the rising HIV epidemic.
Life expectancy has accelerated in most regions from 2000 onwards and overall there was a global increase of five years between 2000 and 2015, with an even larger increase of 9.4 years observed in the African region.
In 2016, it was 18.1 years lower in low-income countries (62.7 years) than in high-income countries (80.8 years). Since 2000, that gap has narrowed.
The recent life expectancy gains in low-income countries are largely due to major reductions in mortality in children under five years in low-income countries, a reduction of 53 per cent from 143 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 68 in 2018.
WHO has said that it is, however, concerning that older people today are not particularly experiencing their later years in better health than their parents.
“If these added years are dominated by declines in physical and mental capacity, the implications for older people and for society are more negative,” said WHO.
Yet there still exists persistent and substantial gap between average life expectancy in low- and in high-income countries. In low-income countries overall, fewer than three out of five newborns are expected to reach the age of 70 and more than one-third of all deaths are among children younger than 15 years.
Premature deaths in those countries are due primarily to lower respiratory infections, diarrhoeal diseases, malaria and preterm birth complications and acquired Aids.
In high-income countries, 80 per cent of newborns are expected to live beyond the age of 70. Ischaemic heart disease, lung cancer and suicides are the three top causes of premature death in these countries.
Globally, significant progress towards several health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is credited for increased average life expectancy at birth by 5.5 years globally between 2000 and 2016 from 66.5 to 72 years.
But, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus, said despite the good news, the rate of progress was not happening fast enough to meet the SDGs. “And this progress will be further thrown off track by Covid-19,” said Dr Ghebreyesus.
“The pandemic highlights the urgent need for all countries to invest in strong health systems and primary health care, as the best defence against outbreaks like Covid-19, and against the many other health threats that people around the world face every day. Health systems and health security are two sides of the same coin.”
The report by WHO said one driver of progress in lower-income countries was improved access to services to prevent and treat HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, as well as a number of neglected tropical diseases such as guinea worm.
The organisation, however, warned that progress had stalled in some areas like immunisation that would have seen the numbers improve even further.
Already, WHO has been warning that gains in the fight against malaria may be reversed during this Covid-19 crisis due to an overall shortage of services, while prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases such as cancer and have also been affected.
“Immunisation coverage has barely increased in recent years,” said WHO.