People in Africa live longer. But their health is poor in those extra years

People are now living longer in sub-Saharan Africa than they did two decades ago. This is an achievement, given that life expectancy in the region went down the drain from the 1990s to the mid-2000s as it choked under the devastating effects of the HIV epidemic.

Healthy life expectancy

The average healthy life expectancy at birth in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 9.1 years, from 46.1 years in 1990 to 55.2 years in 2017. The increase in health life expectancy at birth varied from 0.9 years in Southern Africa to 12.4 years in Eastern Africa.

Even larger variations in healthy life expectancy than these were observed between countries, ranging from a decrease of 4.9 years in Lesotho (51.9 years in 1990 to 47 years in 2017) to an increase of 23.7 years in Eritrea (30.7 years in 1990 to 54.4 years in 2017).

In most countries, the increase in healthy life expectancy was smaller than the increase in overall life expectancy, indicating more years lived in poor health.

Extraordinary progress, but …

Since 1990, we have seen exceptional progress in sub-Saharan Africa in reducing the burden of communicable diseases, especially measles, tetanus and other vaccine-preventable diseases. However, early death and disability due to these causes remain unnecessarily high in many countries. Immunisation efforts have been helpful, but progress in coverage has slowed in the past decade. Close to 20 million children worldwide, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa, didn’t receive vaccines against these deadly diseases in 2017. Conflict, inadequate investment in national immunisation programmes, and vaccine stock outs were among the reasons for the stalled progress in immunisation coverage.

Read more: The Conversation