SDG progress hampered by insufficient mortality data

A shortage of doctors in Africa is one of the main reasons for the huge discrepancy in life expectancy; the continent has to make do with just two per 10,000 people. [DFID/Flickr]

Life expectancy is at its highest in Europe, and the average is rising globally at a significant rate except in Africa, according to new figures released by the World Health Organisation. But its work is being hurt by a lack of data to analyse. EURACTIV Germany reports.

This positive trend points towards the leaps forward made by global healthcare systems; worldwide the average lifespan now reaches 71 years, a five year increase on the figure back in 2000. Women live an average of 73.8 years now, while for men it is 69.1 years.

The figures, naturally, vary from continent to continent. In the Americas, the average difference in age between men and women is 3.8 years, while in Africa it is just 2.4.

Africa has shown improvement, but when compared with other regions of the world, it is lagging far behind: women can expect a life expectancy of 63 years, and for men it is only 59.

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A major reason for the discrepancy is the continent’s poor healthcare, explained Renate Bähr, head of the German Foundation for World Population. Although Africa is badly afflicted by preventable diseases such as AIDS and Malaria, the fact that there are only two doctors per 10,000 inhabitants means that healthcare providers face an uphill struggle. In Europe there are 16 times as many.

But the fact that life expectancy has increased shows that investment and research in healthcare has paid off, Bähr continued. For the good work to continue, there needs to be more qualified medical staff and facilities.

The WHO report also highlighted the areas in which developing countries have to improve more, particularly when it comes to childbirth and the treatment of diseases like AIDS and tuberculosis.

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The international agency’s study did emphasise that in many countries there was not enough raw data to accurately calculate the life expectancy figure. “According to estimates, 53% of deaths worldwide are not recorded every year. Progress in developing countries is relatively low,” said the authors. In order for appropriate countermeasures to be taken, births, mortality and morbidity have to be accurately recorded in all countries.

Of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 13 are associated with health. The report emphasised that progress can only be made if more data is made available and collected. “For example, only 70 countries regularly provide the WHO with mortality data based on sex, age and cause of death. Such information is needed to keep track of more than a dozen of the SDGs,” the study concluded.

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