According to a study published by the WHO on August 4, “healthy” life expectancy in Africa increased by nine years between 2000 and 2019, rising from 47 to 56 years – compared to the global average of 64 years. Progress is far from uniform, with underperformance in relatively prosperous countries.
The continent has made the greatest progress in the world over the last twenty years in terms of “healthy” life expectancy. In other words, the time individuals live without diseases, another indicator of overall life expectancy.
The main explanation for the progress achieved: access to basic health services has doubled. It went from 24% in 2000 to 46% in 2019 according to ” Monitoring universal health coverage in the African region from the World Health Organization (WHO). The report provides figures by sub-region, but not by country. East Africa and the eight Igad countries have made the greatest progress, rising from a healthy life expectancy of 43 and 45 in 2000 to 58 and 57 in 2019.
North Africa approaches the world average at 63 years, while three sub-regions, Central, Southern and West Africa lag behind, with 54, 55 and 56 years of healthy life respectively. The report presents two explanations: on the one hand, the performance of health services, which depends on investments in public health expenditure, and on the other hand, “high-income or middle-income countries in the upper bracket have in most cases a much higher Health Coverage Index and expected life expectancy at birth than low-income countries”.
The Central African Republic, world record for the lowest life expectancy Figures from the World Bank confirm the Maghreb’s clear lead (see table) in terms of life expectancy in general, regardless of whether one lives ill or not. Countries in conflict, poor and/or not investing in health unsurprisingly remain at the back of the pack, such as the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Chad and Lesotho.
In Nigeria, the situation is exacerbated, as in other oil-producing countries, by social inequalities, as well as bymassive brain drain healthcare workers, attracted by better working conditions abroad. The same scourge prevails in Egypt, a country where people live an average of 72 years, with 1 doctor per 1,240 inhabitants (compared to 1 per 5,000 inhabitants in Nigeria). The explanation is that Egypt, like other North African countries, has completed its demographic transition, with an accompanying decline in birth and death rates and investment in health.
Why do people live ten years longer in Senegal than in Côte d’Ivoire, where life expectancy does not exceed 57 years, as in Somalia and South Sudan? And this, while the failures of the public hospital in Senegal are making headlines in the press…
“There is more media coverage in Senegal, but there are regular scandals in Côte d’Ivoire as in Benin,” he explains Gilles Yabi, the founder of the West African Think Tank (WATHI). Senegal has made more progress in maternal and neonatal health than anywhere else in the subregion. But the health of 0-5-year-olds has a great influence on life expectancy, in addition to social factors that are difficult to measure, such as lifestyle, physical activity and diet”.
Ivory Coast on par with Somalia The only two high-income countries in Africa are doing better, such as Seychelles and Mauritius, but money does not always equate to longevity. “The link with GDP per capita is not necessarily the most decisive factor, unlike public investment in health,” said Mabingué Ngom, Special Adviser to the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Director of the UNFPA Office for Africa. Union.
Equatorial Guinea, population 1.4 million, has a life expectancy as low as Guinea-Bissau, while income is ten times higher. Another remarkable curiosity: In Mali and Cameroon, whose GDP per population almost doubles, people do not live more than 59 years on average.
In Gabon, where cancer prevention and control is less neglected, life expectancy exceeds by six years that of Congolese neighbors, peaking at 60 years in Kinshasa as in Brazzaville.
As for South Africa, it was at the same level as Comoros, Liberia and Ghana, 64 years old in 2019. Three countries that are far from industrialized like it. The extent of the AIDS virus changed everything in the 2000s, with 19% of 15-49 year olds living with HIV today. According to Statistics SA, life expectancy at birth without HIV/AIDS, which causes 23% of deaths, averaged 69 years in 2019. Added to AIDS, the devastation caused by Covid-19 has reduced life expectancy in South Africa for three years. This rose to 61 in 2021, as in Burundi, one of the poorest countries in Africa.