ADDIS ABABA – Healthy life expectancy in Africa increased by an average of 10 years to 56 years in 2019, from 46 in 2000, a World Health Organisation report says.
While still well below the global average of 64, the increase was greater than in any other region of the world.
The 2022 report, Tracking Universal Health Coverage in the WHO African Region, has attributed the gain to improvement in the health services.
Improvements 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 helped to extend healthy life expectancy.
Essential health service coverage improved to 46% in 2019 on average, compared with 24% in 2000, according to the report.
“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,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, in a press briefing last month.
“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,” she added.
According to the WHO report, the most significant achievements were in preventing and treating infectious diseases.
But this was offset by the dramatic rise in hypertension, diabetes and other noncommunicable diseases and the lack of health services targeting these diseases, the report claims.
“The progress must not stall. Unless countries enhance measures against the threat of cancer and other noncommunicable diseases, the health gains could be jeopardized,” Dr Moeti.
The gains could also be undermined by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic unless robust catch-up plans are instituted, the report claims.
The UN health agency said, on average, African countries reported greater disruptions across essential services compared with other regions.
More than 90% of the 36 countries responding to a 2021 WHO survey reported one or more disruptions to essential health services.
The disruptions are particularly high in immunization, neglected tropical diseases and nutrition services despite efforts to restore essential services, prompting the WHO Africa to urge governments to step up public health financing.
Most governments in Africa fund less than 50% 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% of their national health budgets, the report says.
The report has also assessed the households out-of-pocket (OOP) health expenditure. As per WHO definition, health spending is considered not catastrophic when families spend less than 10% of their income on health expenditure, irrespective of their poverty level.
Its latest report finds out-of-pocket expenditure in Africa has stagnated or increased in 15 countries over the past 20 years.
In Africa, where the $1.90 poverty headcount ratio a day is 40.4% of the population, the report says the definitions of catastrophic expenditure may leave out majority of its people “for whom out-of-pocket health spending represents spending on regrettable necessities.”
It urges African countries to accelerate efforts to improve financial risk protection, repivot health service delivery with a focus on incorporating noncommunicable health services as part of essential health services.