The average life expectancy in the African region has increased on average by 10 years per person between 2000 and 2019, the WHO has said, describing the rise greater than in any other region of the world during the same period.
But the World Health Organisation also cautioned that the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic at the end of this period could have a disruptive impact on these huge gains going forward.
Sharing details of a report called 'Tracking Universal Health Coverage in the WHO African Region 2020' launched during an online media briefing on Friday from its headquarters in Brazzaville, the global health body said that the number of years an individual is in a good state of health increased to 56 years in 2019, compared with 46 in 2000.
While the increase in life expectancy in Africa is still well below the global average of 64, over the same period, global healthy life expectancy increased by only five years, the report stated. Among the reasons cited for this increased life expectancy in Africa were improvements in the provision of essential health services, gains in reproductive, maternal, new-born and child health, as well as progress in the fight against infectious diseases.
In particular, the rapid scale-up of HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria control measures from 2005 helped to extend healthy life expectancy. Essential health service coverage on the African continent improved to 46 per cent in 2019, compared with 24 per cent in 2000.
But while there were significant achievements in preventing and treating infectious diseases, there was also a dramatic rise in lifestyle diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, with a lack of health services targeting these diseases. The sharp rise in healthy life expectancy during the past two decades is a testament to the region's drive for improved health and well-being of the population.
At its core, it means that more people are living healthier, longer lives, with fewer threats of infectious diseases and with better access to care and disease prevention services, said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
Moeti called for increased attention to other diseases. Unless countries enhance measures against the threat of cancer and other non-communicable diseases, the health gains could be jeopardised, Moeti said.
The report said it was critical for governments to contribute more towards their national health budgets. It said most governments in Africa fund less than 50 per cent of their national health budgets, resulting in large funding gaps.Only Algeria, Botswana, Cabo Verde, Eswatini, Gabon, Seychelles and South Africa fund more than 50 per cent of their national health budgets. COVID-19 has shown how investing in health is critical to a country's security. The better Africa can cope with pandemics and other health threats, the more our people and economies thrive. I urge governments to invest in health and be ready to tackle head on the next pathogen to come bearing down on us, Moeti said.