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WHO: Higher incomes lift life expectancy across world

old man
When citizens have access to better health care, they live longer. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Rising incomes have increased life expectancy across the globe, new data released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) show, even as it warns that poor countries continue to perform badly and are still lagging below the global average in the measurement of wealth and longevity.

“Despite the largest gains in both indicators being due primarily to the progress made in reducing child mortality and fighting infectious diseases, low-income and lower-middle-income countries continue to suffer from the poorest overall health outcomes,” WHO says in the report that tracked data between 2000 and 2016.

Kenya is ranked as a lower middle-income country, meaning that it is among nations that need to invest more to improve incomes and life expectancy. According to WHO, life expectancy at birth for Kenyan men stands at 64.4 years, compared to 68.9 for women. The average for both sexes is 68.7 years. This is about six years above the average for poor countries, which stood at 62.7 years. However, it is about 12 years lower than life expectancy at birth in high-income economies where expectancy stands at 80.8 years at birth.

“Low income countries have seen the biggest recent gains in life expectancy: On average in those countries, it rose by 21 percent between 2000 and 2016 (or 11 years), compared with 8 percent (five years) globally and 4 percent (three years) in high-income countries, says the survey released last week.

The report also notes that whereas there was a general increase in the quality of health services globally, poor countries recorded the biggest gains in this respect. And whereas longer life expectancy and improved health services are indications of improved quality for life for individuals, it also has policy and fiscal implications for governments and pension funds.

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When citizens have access to better health care, they live longer, meaning that retired civil servants will continue to exert pressure on tax-funded pension funds while private sectors workers will draw from their retirement funds for longer or suffer from old age poverty in instances where their pension payment is limited.

Older people are also likely to spend more, including their own disposable income, on drugs and hospital visits.

“Out-of-pocket health spending can also push people into poverty,” the report warns. “Most of the people pushed into extreme poverty (surviving on less than $2 per person per day) by out of-pocket payments live in lower-middle-income countries and South-East Asia”.

Sadly, the number of people who have become poorer as a result of out-of-pocket spending on medicine and treatment is on a sharp increase globally.

However, it is not all doom and gloom for poor countries as the report indicates that fewer children are dying between birth and the age of five while the deaths of mothers during childbirth is generally on the decline. However, there is still a disproportionate number of infants who die from respiratory and diarrheal diseases, both of which are either treatable or preventable.

“In high-income countries, 80 percent of newborns are expected to live beyond the age of 70,” says the report.

In adulthood, however, the challenges increase since healthcare systems globally have not done enough to reduce deaths arising from lifestyle and non-communicable diseases like hypertension and cancer. This is despite progress made in combating communicable diseases. By contrast, heart disease, lung cancer and suicides are the three top causes of premature death in rich countries.

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