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Study Quantifies That People Are Living Longer

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - Elderly people dance on a street during the International Day of Older Persons in Sao Paulo's Avenida Paulista, Brazil, October 2013.

FILE - Elderly people dance on a street during the International Day of Older Persons in Sao Paulo's Avenida Paulista, Brazil, October 2013.

A new report by the World Health Organization finds people are living longer. The organization’s annual statistics report shows people are living an average six years longer than they did in 1990.

The World Health Organization report finds low-income countries have made the greatest progress, with average life expectancies rising by nine years between 1990 and 2012.

WHO Department of Health Statistics and Information Systems Director Ties Boerma attributes the improvements to major successes in the health-related Millennium Development Goals.

“Child mortality is down 47 percent since 1990. Maternal mortality is 45 percent down since 1990. HIV, TB, malaria all have seen major reductions in new infections and in deaths," said Dr. Boerma. "But we also have to acknowledge that many countries will not achieve the Millennium Development Goals ... so much more action is needed.”

The World Health Statistics 2014 surveys 194 countries. The data show women all over the world live longer than men and the gaps in life expectancy between rich and poor countries persist. It says declining tobacco use is a key factor in helping people live longer in several countries.

The top six countries where life expectancy from birth has increased the most are Liberia, Ethiopia, Maldives, Cambodia, Timor-Leste, and Rwanda.

The report cites Iceland as the top-ranked country for life expectancy among men, which is just over 81 years. Japan comes out on top for women, who live until age 87. On the bottom of the scale, the report finds life expectancy for both men and women is still less than 55 years in nine sub-Saharan countries.

The leading causes for years of life lost are ischaemic heart disease, pneumonia, and stroke, followed by preterm birth complications, diarrheal diseases and HIV/AIDS. The report says infectious diseases and related conditions are the major causes of more than 70 percent of premature deaths in 22 African countries.

Meanwhile, it finds non-communicable diseases and injuries account for more than 90 percent of years of life lost in 47 high-income countries.

Boerma told VOA that spectacular progress has been made in countries where strong government leadership promotes health services.

“One lesson though is that if the political unstable situation resolves, we have seen in many countries a catch-up, really fast progress. Examples: Liberia, which is now our fastest progressing country, Rwanda, but also Cambodia.”

Boerma noted that such practices as good delivery care for women, family planning and immunizations are aiding the progress.

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