Global health

Longer lives, more lifestyle disease

Life expectancy worldwide has jumped by a decade since 1980, rising in 2015 to 69 years for men and nearly 75 for women, according to a comprehensive overview of global health released Thursday.

Life expectancy went up in 188 of 195 countries and territories
Life expectancy went up in 188 of 195 countries and territories (Shutterstock.com)

PARIS - Life expectancy worldwide has jumped by a decade since 1980, rising in 2015 to 69 years for men and nearly 75 for women, according to a comprehensive overview of global health released Thursday.

These extra years came in large measure thanks to a sharp drop in deaths from communicable diseases, especially over the last decade, said the Global Burden of Disease report, published in The Lancet.

Despite population increases, combined mortality from HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis -- both major killers -- fell by more than a quarter, from 3.1 million in 2005 to 2.3 million in 2015. 

Over this period, annual deaths due to diarrhoeal diseases decreased by 20 percent. 

And malaria mortality plummeted by more than a third, from 1.2 million in 2005 to 730,000 last year.

During that decade, life expectancy went up in 188 of 195 countries and territories.

At the same time, however, non-communicable diseases of all kinds -- ranging from cancers to heart disease and stroke -- claimed more lives, with the death toll rising from 35 million in 2005 to 39 million in 2015. 

"As we live longer, the burden of non-communicable diseases is rising -- along with the attendant costs of treatment," Kevin Watkins, head of Save the Children UK, noted in a comment, also in The Lancet.

Many of the diseases on the rise are associated with ageing: cancers, coronary artery disease, cirrhosis of the liver and Alzheimer's, among others.

The paradox is that even as lifespans grow, more people are spending more time in ill health of living with disabilities, the 100-page study found.

Centralising the expertise of nearly 1,900 experts, the report -- coordinated by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle -- comes at the juncture between two major UN health initiatives.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), set in 2000, set hard targets for reducing child and maternal mortality, and combatting key communicable diseases, by 2015.

A 15-year clock on a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) -- several of them health related -- began running last year.

The report is intended as a benchmark for this new effort.

There have been other major health gains over the last quarter century.