According to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO), the life expectancy of Africans have increased by about 10 years. The international health body said that the expectancy has gone up from 46 years to 56 years.
The health agency attributed the rise to the availability of better health care in the continent and an increase in healthcare accessibility. However, it pointed out that a lot of work is still needed as the numbers are "still well below the global average of 64 years."
Life expectancy refers to the number of years on average a person is expected to live under normal circumstances – based on their age, gender, and nationality.
The report, released this week, showed a WHO analysis of health care provision and life expectancy for 47 countries in Africa between the years 2000 and 2019.
More so, the ten years rise in life expectancy in Africa is the highest ever recorded in any region of the world. But the WHO warns that the effect of COVID-19 may affect the expected gains.
The WHO African Region made the announcement through its official Twitter handle @WHOAFRO, saying, "Healthy life expectancy in the African region has increased on average by 10 years per person between 2000 and 2019, a WHO assessment reports."
WHO Assistant Regional Director for Africa Lindiwe Makubalo warned that life expectancy gains could easily be lost unless countries strengthen and invest more significantly in developing health care systems.
Speaking from the Republic of Congo's capital, Brazzaville, she said Africa had made a good start in that direction over the past two decades. She noted that access to essential services like basic primary health care improved to 46% in 2019 compared with 24% in 2000.
"Other factors include improvements in reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health," Makubalo said. "Additionally, the rapid scale-up of health services to tackle infectious diseases such as HIV and TB, as well as malaria, over the past 15 years has been a strong catalyst for improved health life expectancy."
While progress has been made in preventing and treating infectious diseases, the report found health services for noncommunicable diseases are lagging. It says the dramatic rise in hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and other noncommunicable diseases could jeopardize health gains if those conditions continue to be neglected.
"As governments work to restore affected health services, it is crucial not only to aim to re-establish health systems to pre-pandemic levels. Rather, it is important that significant improvements are made, and they are needed to ensure quality, equitable and accessible services for all," she added.
The report notes some progress has been made in achieving universal health coverage, but it is far from enough. Health officials say one of the key measures to improve access to health services is for governments to increase their public health budgets.
That, they say, would reduce the catastrophic out-of-pocket expenditures by households that are pushing millions of people into poverty.
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