Africa’s healthy life expectancy rises by 10 years, WHO warns

Africa’s healthy life expectancy rises by 10 years, WHO warns

The average life expectancy in the African region has increased by 10 years per person between 2000 and 2019, according to the WHO.

The World Health Organisation warned that the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic could have a significant impact on these huge gains going forward.

The global health body said that in 2019, the number of years an individual is in good health increased to 56 years compared to 46 in 2000, as part of the report called 'Tracking Universal Health Coverage in the WHO African Region 2020'.

Over the same period, the global healthy life expectancy in Africa increased by only five years, according to the report.

There were improvements in the provision of essential health services, gains in reproductive, maternal, new-born and child health, as well as progress in the fight against infectious diseases that were cited as the reasons for this increased life expectancy in Africa.

In 2005, the rapid scale-up of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria control measures helped to extend healthy life expectancy.

In 2019, essential health service coverage on the African continent increased to 46 per cent, compared to 24 per cent in 2000.

While there were significant achievements in preventing and treating infectious diseases, there was also a dramatic rise in lifestyle diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, with a lack of health services targeting these diseases.

The rise in healthy life expectancy over the past two decades is a testament to the drive for better health and well-being of the population. At its core, it means more people are living healthier, longer lives, with fewer threats of infectious diseases and with better access to care and disease prevention services, said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

Moeti said that there should be more attention to other diseases.

Unless countries strengthen measures against the threat of cancer and other non-communicable diseases, the health gains could be jeopardised, Moeti said.

The report said it was important for governments to contribute more to their national health budgets.

It said most governments in Africa don't fund more than 50 per cent of their national health budgets, resulting in large funding gaps.

More than 50 per cent of their national health budgets are allocated to Algeria, Botswana, Cabo Verde, Eswatini, Gabon, Seychelles and South Africa.

COVID 19 shows how investing in health is critical to a country's security. The more Africa can cope with pandemics and other health threats, the more people and economies thrive. Moeti said that governments should invest in health and be ready to tackle the next pathogen that is going to come down on us.