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Global Life Expectancy On The Rise

May 14, 2011

Average life expectancy across much of the world is steadily climbing and infant deaths dropped across the world during the first decade of the 21st century, according to figures released by the World Health Organization.

While the average life expectancy rate climbs in much of the world, men in Iraq and women in South Africa have life expectancies that are declining. WHO said the average life expectancy in Iraq for both sexes fell to 66 years in 2009 from 68 in 2000.

The WHO said that while Iraqi women could expect to live until 70, the life expectancy for men dropped sharply to 62 years, compared with 65 in 2000. Figures for Iraqi women are only available as far back as 2009.

“The figures reflect the chaos from the conflict and the impact on health systems,” said Colin Mathers, a coordinator with WHO’s annual World Health Statistics report.

Life expectancy for women in South Africa fell from 59 years in 2000 to 55 years in 2009. In 1990, average life expectancy for women in South Africa was 68 years old. These rapid declinations reflect the country’s high HIV infection rate. Men’s life expectancy remained stable at 54 in the nine year period, but was down from 59 in 1990.

Chad, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica were the only other countries where average life expectancy fell between 2000 and 2009.

Life expectancy is the single clearest indicator of global health. And overall, it is steadily climbing.

Women can expect to live for 71 years, up from 68 years at the beginning of the century. Men lagged behind but still rose, with a global average life expectancy of 66 years, up from 64 years, according to the report. The combined figures showed an increase of two years globally since 2000, to 68 years.

But there are still wide variations in life expectancy country to country.

Girls born in Chad and the Central African Republic are likely to only live to age 48. Poverty, limited medical care and high maternal mortality rates contributes to this low life expectancy rate. In the southern African country of Malawi, male life expectancy is the lowest, at 44 years old.

In Japan, though, women have a life expectancy of 86 years. Men can expect to live longest in San Marino.

In the US, female life expectancy at birth averaged 81 years in 2009, up from 80 years in 2000. For males, the life expectancy at birth is now 76 years, according to the WHO report.

In another area of the report, WHO found that infant death rates fell twice as fast as they did in the 1990s.

WHO said there had been an equally impressive rate of decline in the number of women dying from complications from pregnancy and childbirth in the past decade. But the world’s health services were still weighed down with the “double burden” of infectious ailments and lifestyle diseases, the WHO report added.

“Much more has been done after the year 2000 and it’s paying off,” the WHO’s health statistics director Ties Boerma said. He linked the progress to higher spending on health care, immunization programs, education and other factors.

“It’s a combination of health intervention and social and economic improvement,” he told Reuters. But the report called for still more funding for health services, especially in poor countries.

The WHO found child mortality had dropped by 2.7 percent per year since 2000, twice the rate of decline from the 1990s. Deaths in children under five years old was 8.1 million in 2009, down from 12.4 million in the 1990, according to figures.

The number of women dying from complications in pregnancy and childbirth fell by 3.3 percent a year since 2000, compared with a decrease of 2 percent during the 1990s, it added.

Illnesses like cancer, heart disease and diabetes have reached global epidemic proportions and cause more deaths than all other diseases combined, the WHO said last month. The conditions are exacerbated by tobacco use, obesity and other risk factors, it added.

The latest WHO report will be presented to health ministers from the WHO’s 193 member states who are meeting later this month.

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