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Life Expectancy in Retreat for World's Poorest-UN
Published on Thursday, December 18, 2003 by Reuters
Life Expectancy in Retreat for World's Poorest-UN
by Richard Waddington

GENEVA - While life expectancy increases in most of the world, in AIDS-ravaged parts of southern Africa adult mortality is higher than 30 years ago, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.

In 14 African countries, the U.N. agency said in its annual World Health Report, child mortality is higher than it was in 1990, with over 300 children out of every 1,000 born in Sierre Leone dying before the age of five.

The 194-page report, which ranges from life expectancy through road traffic deaths to the fight against polio and AIDS, also warned of a growing gulf in health care and exposure to disease between the poorest nations and the rest.

"Today's global health situation raises urgent questions about justice," WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook, wrote in an introduction.

"In some parts of the world there is a continued expectation of longer and more comfortable life, while in many others there is despair over the failure to control disease though the means to do so exist."

Of the 57 million premature deaths in 2002, 10.5 million were among children of less than five years of age and 98 percent of those were in developing countries.

In Zimbabwe, the average life expectancy for both sexes was 37.9, in Zambia 39.7 and in Angola 39.9, while in Switzerland it was 80.6, in Sweden 80.4 and in France 79.7.


A baby girl born now in Japan could expect to live 85 years, while one born at the same time in Sierra Leone would probably not survive beyond 36.

"A world marked by such inequities is in very serious trouble," wrote Lee. "We have to find ways to unite our strengths as a global community to shape a healthier future."

The report said AIDS was the leading cause of death in the 15-59 age range, reducing the life expectancy of adults in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe by 20 years.

Deaths from the virus and the complications it brings were almost twice those from the next top killer -- heart disease -- and well over twice more than the third most fatal -- tuberculosis, according to the report.

The WHO said diseases related to tobacco were responsible for some five millions deaths a year.

It said that in 2002, over 1.2 million people died of lung cancer -- largely caused by smoking -- which was a 30 percent increase on 1990. Three out of four of these deaths were among men, the WHO said.

Among men, average life expectancy is 77.9 years in Australia and 75.9 in France. In China, the average man lives to 69.6, in Brazil to 65.7 and Egypt to 65.3.

But in Russia -- where health and other social services have largely collapsed since the end of the Soviet system in 1991 -- a man can expect to live to only 58.4.

French women have a present life expectancy of 83.5, just ahead of Australian women who can expect to live to 83.

Russian women, less prone to the ravages of heavy vodka-drinking, can expect to outlive their men by around 14 years and die at just over the age of 72.

© Reuters Ltd 2003


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