- In Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, the AIDS pandemic already has reduced the general life expectancy of men and women by more than 20 years. The average Southern African can now only expect to become 40 years old at birth, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said yesterday.
While life expentancy in the world at large has increased by 20 years since the 1950s, the UN agency said in its annual World Health Report, the trends are opposite in the regions most affected by AIDS. In the world's poorest countries, no improvements have been made the last 50years.
Over the last 50 years, average life expectancy at birth had "increased globally by almost 20 years, from 46.5 years in 1950–1955 to 65.2 years in 2002," the WHO report said. "The large life expectancy gap between developed and developing countries in the 1950s has changed to a gap between the very poorest developing countries and all other countries," it added.
The WHO report illustrated this by the contrasting prospects of baby girls born at the same moment in Japan and Sierra Leone. While the Japanese baby can expect to live for about 85 years, life expectancy for the child in Sierra Leone is just 36 years. "The Japanese girl will receive some of the world’s best health care whenever she needs it, but the girl in Sierra Leone may never see a doctor, nurse or health worker," WHO said.
While the world's poorest nations, including Sierra Leone, had experienced no progress in life expectancy of public health care during the last decades, the worst health backclash worldwide was however registered in Southern Africa. The AIDS pandemic is now taking its toll.
In parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the report says, "current adult mortality rates today exceed those of 30 years ago." The greatest impact had been noted in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, "where HIV/AIDS has reduced life expectancies of men and women by more than 20 years."
In Zimbabwe, the average life expectancy for both sexes was 37.9 years, in Zambia 39.7 years and in Angola 39.9 years. In Africa, HIV/AIDS has now become the leading cause of mortality among adults aged 15–59 years.
AIDS caused 2.3 million deaths last year, the report established, far more than heart diseases (1.3 million deaths) and tuberculosis (1 million). Almost all AIDS deaths are now registered in Africa.
Also in terms of infant mortality, much of Africa was now worse off than earlier. The report points out that even without the impact of HIV/AIDS, millions of children born in African countries today are at greater risk of dying before their fifth birthday than they were a decade ago.
Over 300 children out of every 1000 born in Sierra Leone die before the age of five. Of the 57 million registered deaths in 2002, 10.5 million were among children of less than five years of age and 98 percent of those were in developing countries, mostly African.
In 14 African countries, current levels of child mortality are higher than they were in 1990. In sub-Saharan Africa, HIV/AIDS was responsible for an estimated 332,000 child deaths in 2002. Other diseases however still are causing more children deaths than AIDS is.
Jong-wook Lee, Director-General of WHO, pointed to his organistion's goal of universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment, "with the concrete target of providing treatment to three million people in the poorest countries by the year 2005." The WHO had declared inadequate access to antiretroviral therapy to be a "global health emergency", he said.
Mr Lee further commented that "a world marked by such inequities" as the report had uncovered "is in very serious trouble." Today's global health situation was raising "urgent questions about justice," the WHO leader noted.
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