According to a report by the UN’s world health agency, this rise on the continent is greater than in any other region of the world during the same period. Overall, life expectancy has only increased by five years.
“The sharp increase in healthy life expectancy over the past two decades demonstrates the region’s commitment to improving the health and well-being of the population,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director of the WHO for Africa.
The report shows that healthy life expectancy – or the number of years an individual is in good health – increased to 56 in 2019 from 46 in 2000, although it is still well below the global average of 64 years.
Health coverage of 46% in 2019, compared to 24% in 2000
“Fundamentally, this means more people are living healthier, longer lives, with fewer threats of infectious disease and better access to care and disease prevention services,” added Dr. Moeti.
Improving the delivery of essential health services, progress in reproductive, maternal, neonatal and child health, are among the factors that have supposedly extended this life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the WHO.
The UN agency also highlighted progress in the fight against infectious diseases, thanks to the rapid intensification of measures to combat HIV, tuberculosis and malaria from 2005.
On average, coverage of essential health services improved to 46% in 2019 from 24% in 2000. The most significant results were achieved in the prevention and treatment of communicable diseases.
“But they have been counterbalanced by the dramatic increase in hypertension, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases, as well as the lack of health services targeting these diseases”, tempers the WHO.
The impact of Covid-19 could, however, threaten these “significant gains”
These advances could nevertheless be “compromised by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, unless solid recovery plans are put in place”, warns the WHO.
“But progress must not stop. If countries do not strengthen measures against the threat of cancer and other non-communicable diseases, health gains could be undermined,” argued Dr Moeti.
On average, African countries have reported greater disruptions in essential services than other regions. More than 90% of 36 countries responding to a WHO survey in 2021 reported one or more disruptions to essential health services, with immunization, neglected tropical disease and nutrition services being the most affected.
Reduce out-of-pocket spending
Additionally, 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 finance more than 50% of their national health budgets.
Furthermore, the WHO notes that one of the key measures to improve access to health services is the reduction of catastrophic out-of-pocket spending by governments.
Health expenditures are induced as non-catastrophic when families spend less than 10% of their income on health expenditures, regardless of their level of poverty. Over the past 20 years, out-of-pocket spending has stagnated or increased in 15 countries.
More broadly, the report recommends that countries accelerate efforts to improve financial risk protection, rethink and reinvigorate health service delivery, emphasizing community engagement and calling on the private sector.
Finally, WHO recommends setting up systems to monitor subnational systems so that countries are better able to detect early warning signs of health threats and system failures.