Want to lower your odds of dying soon? Then head for Rwanda or Ethiopia. And avoid Lesotho and Swaziland

New study shows big swing in life expectancies, but the island countries are still the places to grow old in style

RWANDA increased its life expectancy from 49 years to 66 years over 23 years, the star performer in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a new survey of global life expectancy.

The bulk of this gain came from tackling diarrhoea and other lower respiratory tract infections (LRIs), while gains in fighting cardiovascular disease and HIV/Aids and tuberculosis also helped increase life expectancy in the East African nation. 

The 2013 Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study showed that on average people around the world lived to 71.5 years in 2013, more than six years longer than in 1990. Women saw a higher increase, at 6.6 years in the period under review, while men gained 5.5 years in life expectancy.

The study,  published in respected British health journal The Lancet, however said only sub-Saharan Africa lagged in the upward trend, with HIV/Aids a particular burden, shaving off five years for the region. The findings also highlighted how much of a killer diarrhoea and respiratory infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis have become in the region.

Ethiopia, Niger and Liberia also saw big upward shifts in life expectancy, at 15.6 years, 14. 8 years and 13.4 years respectively.

Ethiopia gained 7.2 years from tackling diarrhoea and LRI’s, while for Niger the gain was even more pronounced gaining 11.5 years.

Post-conflict Liberia, in addition to gaining 6.5 years from anti-diarrhoea and LRI initiatives, also gained three years from reducing war and disaster.

Burundi, Angola and Eritrea were also top performers in increasing their life expectancies, attributed to fighting diseases such as diarrhoea.

On the other end of the scale was Lesotho, which saw life expectancy drop 12.9 years to 48 years in 2013, from 61 years in 1990. The study attributed this dramatic dip to increased HIV/Aids and TB infections, and which cost the tiny kingdom some 10.1 years over the period under review.

Swaziland also saw life expectancy fall 11.5 years, from 62 years in 1990 to 51 years in 2013, again the victim of increased infections in HIV/Aids and tuberculosis. 

The same challenge affected Zimbabwe and South Africa, which respectively lost 7.4 years and 4.1 years.

Swaziland and Lesotho also had the  lowest life expectancies in sub-Saharan Africa.

A South African last year expected to live to the age of 60 years, a fall from 65 years in 1990, having lost 8.8 years mainly to HIV/Aids.

Southern Africa generally came in poorly, with Botswana and Namibia also decreasing in life expectancy. But the two countries compensated by having among the highest life expectancies, with Batswana living to an average age of 68 years.

The highest life expectancy in the region however belonged to the islands, with Cape Verde leading at 74 years. Seychelles and Mauritius both came in at 73 years. 

Sao Tomeans would reasonably have expected to live to be 68 years last year.

 In Cape Verde, women would theoretically expect to reach 78 years, the highest in the region while Lesotho men would contemplate only 45 years; the lowest.

The challenges for the richer African island countries were more of lifestyle diseases, with cardiovascular campaigns adding more years to the lives of their inhabitants.

This was the biggest problem in the developed world, with gains in fighting cancer and cardiovascular diseases attributed for the overall rise in life expectancies. 

However, according to the study, death rates from major chronic conditions such as liver cancer, drug use disorders and chronic kidney diseases were on the rise.

In 2013, some 54.9 million people in the world died, an increase from 47.5 million people in 1990, in part due to the growth in the world’s population. 

“The progress we are seeing against a variety of illnesses and injuries is good, even remarkable, but we can and must do even better,” lead study author Dr Christopher Murray, professor of global health at the University of Washington, said.

The comprehensive study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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