Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Life expectancy and healthy life expectancy have increased, with the biggest gains observed in low-income countries, according to the WHO’s World Health Statistics report that was released today. However, the increases in both measures has been unequal, according to the report, and the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to hinder progress toward global development goals.
“The report reflects the fact that the rate of progress is too slow to meet the sustainable development goals and will be further thrown off track by COVID-19,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, said at a press conference. “The new statistics shine a light on one of the key drivers of this pandemic — inequality.”
The largest gains occurred in low-income countries, some of which saw life expectancy increase by 21%, or 11 years, from 2000 to 2016, compared with an increase of only 4%, or 3 years, in higher income areas. One force behind this progress was improved access to prevention and treatment services for HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases, including guinea worm. Improvements in maternal and child health care, which decreased child mortality by half between 2000 and 2018, also contributed to this increase in life expectancy.
However, inadequate progress has been made in preventing and controlling premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases. The report calls for “comprehensive strategies” to reduce mortality from these diseases if global targets are to be achieved by 2030. Approximately 41 million people died from noncommunicable disease in 2016, which is equivalent to 71% of all deaths. The most prevalent causes of these deaths included cardiovascular disease (17.9 million deaths), cancer (9 million), chronic respiratory diseases (3.8 million) and diabetes (1.6 million).
The report also indicated a need for stronger health and data information systems, noting “uneven capacity” to gather health statistics. The authors warned that this limited capacity may weaken low-income countries’ ability to follow population health trends, develop policies, distribute resources and provide effective interventions.
“The message from this report is clear: As the world battles the most serious pandemic in 100 years, just a decade away from the Sustainable Development Goals deadline, we must act together to strengthen primary health care and focus on the most vulnerable among us in order to eliminate the gross inequalities that dictate who lives a long, healthy life and who doesn’t,” WHO Assistant Director-General Samira Asma, MPH, said in a press release. “We will only succeed in doing this by helping countries to improve their data and health information systems.”
According to the report, 55% of the global population did not have access to safely managed sanitation services in 2017; 29% did not have safely managed drinking water. That same year, two in five households globally lacked basic hand-washing facilities with soap and water in their home.
“The world has not done enough to deliver on the promise of health for all. The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a significant loss of life, disrupting livelihoods and threatening to undo much of the progress we have made,” Tedros said. “While the coronavirus is an unprecedented shock to the world, through national unity and global solidarity we can save both lives and livelihoods and ensure that other health services for neglected diseases, child vaccination, HIV, TB and malaria continue to both function and improve.” – by Eamon Dreisbach
WHO. World health statistics 2020. https://www.who.int/gho/publications/world_health_statistics/2020/en/. Accessed May 13, 2020.