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Global Life Expectancy Up by 6 Years since 1990, Study Shows

Posted December 19, 2014

It has been known for some time that advances in the treatment and prevention of cancer, tuberculosis, HIV, malaria and other major ailments has significantly extended people’s life spans around the globe. A new systematic review, published in scientific journal The Lancet on the 17th of December 2014, has demonstrated exactly how big that increase is.

On average, the progress made in just 23 years has given people 6 additional years of life around the world. Image credit: werner22brigitte via, CC0 Public Domain

On average, the progress made in just 23 years has given people 6 additional years of life around the world. Image credit: werner22brigitte via, CC0 Public Domain

Lead author Dr. Christopher Murray, professor of Global Health at the University of Washington, says that between 1990 and 2013, global life expectancy increased by roughly 5.8 years in men and 6.6 years in women.

“The progress we are seeing against a variety of illnesses and injuries is good, even remarkable, but we can and must do even better.”

According to Murray, a substantial increase in collective action and funding allocated to tackling major infectious diseases like diarrhoea, measles, tuberculosis, HIV and malaria has had a huge impact on improving the lives of millions of people.

“However, this study shows that some major chronic diseases have been largely neglected, but are rising in importance, particularly drug disorders, liver cirrhosis, diabetes and chronic kidney disease.”

Murray and his colleagues point out that in more affluent regions, life expectancy increased largely because of falling death rates from most forms of cancer and cardiovascular disorders, while in poorer countries, it is boosted by declining numbers of mortality due to diarrhoea, lower respiratory tract infections and neonatal disorders.

The review also notes that while life expectancy has been rising steadily throughout the world, sub-Saharan Africa proves to be a notable exception. Here, HIV/AIDS is still the main culprit of premature death in 20 of the 48 sub-Saharan states, shaving off around 5 years from the average life span.

Igor Rudan and Kit Yee Chan from the Centre for Population Health Sciences and Global Health Academy at the University of Edinburgh Medical School in the UK call for more competition among researchers:

“Estimates of the causes of the global burden of disease, disability, and death are important because they guide investment decisions that, in turn, save lives across the world.

Historically, the responsibility for those estimates rested largely with WHO and its academic partners. Although WHO’s team of experts have been doing fine technical work for many years, its monopoly in this field had removed incentives to invest more time and resources in continuous improvement.”

They think that the emergence of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has changed the science of global health metrics in much the same way as competition between Celera Genomics and the Human Genome Project had changed the efforts to map the human genome.

“The competition between WHO and GBD [Global Burden of Disease Study] has benefited the entire global health community, leading to converging estimates of the global causes of death that everyone can trust.”

Original research paper: Global, regional, and national age–sex specific all-cause and cause-specific mortality for 240 causes of death, 1990–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013, GBD 2013 Mortality and Causes of Death Collaborators, The Lancet, published online 18 December 2014.

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