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Healthy life expectancy in Africa rises by almost ten years

World Health Organization (WHO) latest reports indicates that the life expectancy in Africa increased by ten years over the last twenty years compared to other parts of the world.

The report shows that life expectancy rose to the age of 56 by the year 2019 compared to 46 years that was recorded in the year 2000.

According to an assessment report dubbed “The Tracking Universal Health Coverage in the WHO African region 2022, the healthy life expectancy in the African region has increased on average ten years per person between 2000 and 2019.

This rise is greater than in any other region of the world during the same period and according to WHO, the disruptive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic could threaten these huge gains. 

In a press briefing held virtually yesterday, WHO says that although this is still well below the global average of 64, over the same period global healthy life expectancy increased by only five years.

WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti said the sharp rise in healthy life expectancy during the past two decades is a testament to the region’s drive for improved health and well-being of the population.

“More people are living healthier, longer lives, with fewer threats of infectious diseases and with better access to care and disease prevention services,” she said.

The progress in the fight against infectious diseases, she noted, was due to the rapid scale-up of HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria control measures that helped to extend healthy life expectancy.

On average, essential health service coverage improved to 46 percent in 2019, compared to 24percent in 2000 with the most significant achievements being in preventing and treating infectious diseases.

Dr. Moeti however noted that the progress must not stall saying that unless countries enhance measures against the threat of cancer and other non-communicable diseases, the health gains could be jeopardized thus the need to institute robust catchup plans. 

On average, African countries reported greater disruptions across essential services compared with other regions with more than 90 percent of the 36 countries responding to a 2021 WHO survey reporting one or more disruption to essential health services, with immunization, neglected tropical diseases and nutrition services suffering higher disruptions.

The report says that it is crucial for governments to step up public health financing considering governments in Africa fund less than 50 percent of their national health budgets, resulting in large funding gaps.

“Only Algeria, Botswana, Cabo Verde, Eswatini, Gabon, Seychelles and South Africa fund more than 50 percent of their national health budgets,” Dr Moeti says noting that COVID-19 has shown how investing in health is critical to a country’s security.

“The better Africa can cope with pandemics and other health threats, the more our people and economies thrive. I urge governments to invest in health and be ready to tackle head on the next pathogen to come bearing down on us,” said Dr Moeti.     

One of the key measures to improve access to health services is for governments to reduce catastrophic out-of-pocket expenditure by households meaning families should spend less than 10 percent of their income only on health expenditure irrespective of their poverty level.

The WHO report has recommended countries to accelerate efforts to improve financial risk protection, rethink and repivot health service delivery with a focus on incorporating noncommunicable health services as part of essential health services, involving communities and engaging the private sector.

It also recommends putting in place sub-national system monitoring systems so that countries are better able to capture early warning signs for health threats and system failures. 


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