Since 2000, there have been dramatic gains in overall global life expectancy, say the World Health Organization in a new report. The overall increase of 5 years to just over 71 years is the fastest since the 1960s and reverses the decline seen in the 1990s. However, major inequalities in how long a child born today can expect to live still exist within and among nations, says the United Nations health agency.
The World Health Organization (WHO) report, which monitors progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, shows that the greatest increase in life expectancy during 2000-2015 has been in the African region, where it rose from 9.4 years to 60 years.
The report shows that overall, the average lifespan of a child born in 2015 is likely to be 71.4 years – or 73.8 years if it is a girl and 69.1 years if it is a boy. However, where that child is born can make a big difference to these figures.
The longest life expectancy is in Japan, where children born in 2015 are expected to live 83.7 years, followed by Switzerland (83.4 years), Singapore (83.1 years), Australia (82.8 years), and Spain (82.8 years).
All 29 countries where a child can expect to live on average 80 years or more are high-income nations, while the 22 countries with average life expectancy below 60 years are in low-income nations in sub-Saharan Africa.
In the Americas, the report puts the average life expectancy for the United States at 79.3 years, behind that of Canada (82.2 years), Chile (80.5 years), and Costa Rica (79.6 years).
The figures also highlight differences between the sexes. With an average lifespan of 86.8 years, women in Japan can expect to live the longest, while Switzerland enjoys the longest average survival for men, at 81.3 years.
In contrast, Sierra Leone has the lowest life expectancy for both sexes, and a much smaller gap: 50.8 years for females and 49.3 years for males.
The WHO report also shows healthy life expectancy – a measure of the number of years of good health that a child born in 2015 can expect.
There is increasing interest in this figure as more nations have aging populations and the burden of chronic diseases increases, as does their contribution to premature deaths.
Globally, healthy life expectancy stands at 63.1 years (64.6 years for females and 61.5 years for males), suggesting around 8 years – or over a tenth – of the average lifespan will be lived in poor health or disability.
The WHO also note there are still many gaps that need to be closed to help track progress toward the SDGs. For instance, around half of deaths globally are not registered, although several countries have made considerable progress in this area – these include Brazil, China, the Islamic Republic of Iran, South Africa, and Turkey.
The report also quantifies the causes of death and ill-health that pose significant challenges in meeting the SDGs. For example, every year:
- 5.9 million children die before the age of 5
- 303,000 women die due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth
- 2 million people are newly infected with HIV, and there are 9.6 million new TB cases and 214 million malaria cases
- 1.7 billion people with neglected tropical diseases need treatment
- Over 10 million people die before the age of 70 due to cardiovascular diseases and cancer
- 1.25 million people die from road traffic injuries
- 800,000 people commit suicide
- 475,000 people are murdered (80 percent of them are men)
- 4.3 million people die from air pollution from cooking fuels
- 3 million people die from outdoor air pollution
The report also quantifies the contribution of risk factors such as smoking (1.1 billion smokers worldwide), stunted growth (156 million children affected), and contaminated water (1.8 billion people have no clean drinking water).
Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, says access to basic healthcare for all who need it is the key to closing the big gaps. The report shows many countries are still far from universal health coverage, and a significant number of families “face catastrophic health expenses,” which in many cases represent over 25 percent of household spending.
“The world has made great strides in reducing the needless suffering and premature deaths that arise from preventable and treatable diseases.
But the gains have been uneven. Supporting countries to move towards universal health coverage based on strong primary care is the best thing we can do to make sure no-one is left behind.”
Dr. Margaret Chan