From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
An assessment report by the World Health Organization (WHO) has indicated that healthy life expectancy in Africa has risen by 10 years per person between year 2000 and 2019.
Similarly, the report confirmed that a slight progress was recorded in other regions of the world as the assessment report also indicated that global healthy life expectancy increased by only five years.
The report further explained that healthy life expectancy simply means the number of years an individual is expected to be in a good state of health, and it increased to 56 years in 2019, compared with 46 in 2000.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said that improvements recorded in the provision of essential health services, gains in reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, as well as progress in the fight against infectious diseases, rapid scale-up of HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria control measures from 2005 helped to achieve the feat.
She confirmed that on average, essential health service coverage improved to 46 per cent in 2019, compared with 24 per cent in 2000, and the most significant achievements were in preventing and treating infectious diseases, but the success was disrupted by the dramatic rise in hypertension, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases and the lack of health services targeting these diseases.
Dr. Moeti said: “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. More people are living healthier, longer lives, with fewer threats of infectious diseases and with better access to care and disease prevention services.”
She expressed fears that the health gains could be jeopardized if countries refuse to enhance measures against the threat of cancer and other non-communicable diseases.
WHO said that progress in healthy life expectancy could also be undermined by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic unless robust catch-up plans are instituted, noting that, on average, African countries reported greater disruptions across essential services compared with other regions.
“More than 90 per cent of the 36 countries responding to a 2021 WHO survey reported one or more disruptions to essential health services, with immunization, neglected tropical diseases and nutrition services suffering higher disruptions. But efforts have been made to restore essential services affected by the pandemic.
“However, to enhance health services and ensure they are adequate, of good quality and accessible to all, it is crucial for governments to step up public health financing. Unfortunately, most governments in Africa fund less than 50 per cent of their national health budgets, resulting in large funding gaps.
“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,” said Dr. Moeti.
WHO, however, disclosed that one of the key measures to improve access to health services is for governments to reduce catastrophic out-of-pocket expenditure by households, stating that health expenditure is considered not catastrophic when families spend less than 10 per cent of their income on health expenditure, irrespective of their poverty level. “Unfortunately, over the past 20 years, out-of-pocket expenditure has stagnated or increased in 15 countries,” it stated.
WHO recommended that countries accelerate efforts to improve financial risk protection, rethink and repivot health service delivery with a focus on incorporating non-communicable health services as part of essential health services, involving communities and engaging the private sector.
It also recommends putting in place sub-national monitoring systems so that countries are better able to capture early warning signs for health threats and system failures.