Women in Kenya are enjoying a higher life expectancy than men, living to an average of 67.5 years compared with 63 for men.
On the whole, life expectancy has been increasing over the past two decades but has been strained by HIV/Aids and respiratory and diarrhoeal infections.
Health research conducted at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) found that in 2013, HIV, respiratory infections, diarrhoea and tuberculosis were the diseases most prevalent among men.
For women, Aids, lower respiratory infections (such as pneumonia and bronchitis), diarrhoea, malaria and congenital anomalies were the most prevalent illnesses. Congenital illnesses are conditions that one is born with, which can affect one’s development and general well-being.
Although many in Kenya are living longer, it says, they are also living with illnesses or injuries.
The study, which examined the global burden of disease, the years that one lives in good health and those one lives with an injury or illness, analysed 306 illnesses and injuries in 188 countries between 1990 and 2013. The results were published on Thursday in the journal The Lancet.
One of the co-authors of the study, Dr Tom Achoki, said it was encouraging that Kenyans are living longer. However, he lamented that the high number of deaths arising from HIV “have overshadowed significant gains against diseases like malaria”.
According to the study, Kenya’s disease burden arises from low weight in children, household air pollution due to use of solid fuels and inadequate breast-feeding.
The study says that in 2010, the highest risk factor to good health among children under the age of five was being underweight, while among those aged between 15 and 49, the highest risk factor was alcohol abuse.
The researchers also examined the role that socio-demographic status – a combination of income, age, fertility rates and average years of schooling – plays in determining health. They noted that socio-demographic status is much less responsible for the variations seen for ailments, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
“Factors including income and education have an important impact on health but don’t tell the full story,” said IHME Director Christopher Murray. “Looking at healthy life expectancy and health loss at the country level can help guide policies to ensure that people everywhere can have long and healthy lives no matter where they live.”
For most countries, changes in healthy life expectancy for males and females between 1990 and 2013 were positive, but in dozens of others, including Botswana, Belize and Syria, healthy life expectancy in 2013 was not significantly higher than in 1990.
Healthy life expectancy takes into account not just death rates but the impact of non-fatal conditions and considers years lived with disability and years lost due to premature mortality.
The study further notes that Kenyans between five and 80 have one form or another of mental, behaviour or neurological disorders with the peak being among adolescents aged 15 and youth of about 29.
However, the disorders appear to decline with old age.
Leading causes of death in Kenya
Top ten causes of premature death in 1990:
1. Lower respiratory infections such as pneumonia
3. Diarrheal disease
4. Protein-energy malnutrition
5. Preterm birth complications
6. Neonatal sepsis (bacterial blood infection)
9. Neonatal encephalopathy (brain disease, damage, or malfunction due to infection)
Top ten causes of premature death in 2010:
2. Lower respiratory infections
4. Diarrheal diseases
5. Neonatal sepsis
6. Preterm birth complications
7. Protein-energy malnutrition
9. Neonatal encephalopathy