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Global life expectancy has increased by 6.2 years since 1990, new study finds

Success in fighting enteric infections, lower respiratory infections, and stroke contributed to the increase

Global life expectancy has increased by 6.2 years since 1990, new study finds
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

Recent successes in fighting various diseases has led to an increase of 6.2 years in the global life expectancy since the 1990, a new study has found. 

Researchers observed steady increases throughout each decade between 1990 and 2019, with a total gain of 7.8 years. 

The treatment of infectious diseases of the intestines was the biggest contributor, adding 1.1 years to the overall rise in global life expectancy during the time period of the research. 

The steady progress in treatment of lower respiratory infections also contributed 0.9 years of gained life expectancy while stroke and neonatal complications also observed an annual reduction in deaths as well, adding another 0.6 to 0.8 years to the global life expectancy. 

The study, published in Lancet, acknowledges a recent setback during 2019-2021 due to deaths from covid-19 and other pandemic related mortalities that caused a reduction in life expectancy by 2.2 years. This decrease was partly offset by reductions in other diseases, for a net reduction in global life expectancy of 1·6 years.

The report estimated that 4·80 million deaths due to covid-19 occurred globally in 2020 and 7·89 million in 2021, totalling 12.69 million covid deaths.  

Out of the seven super-regions, the region of Southeast Asia, east Asia, and Oceania saw a net increase of 8.3 years during 1990-2021, making it the least affected by the recent covid-19 pandemic, which only shaved off 0.4 years of life expectancy there. 

A significant drop in deaths from chronic respiratory diseases also played a major role, contributing a gain of 1.2 years. Reduced mortality from stroke, lower respiratory infections, and even cancers also contributed to the gain.

Not far behind, the region of South Asia (including India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan) observed a life expectancy increase of 7.8 years, primarily due to its fight against enteric infectious diseases like diarrhea and typhoid which contributed 3.1 years to the life expectancy in the region. 

“We already know how to save children from dying from enteric infections including diarrheal diseases, and progress in fighting this disease has been tremendous,” said Mohsen Naghavi, first co-author of the study and the director of subnational burden of disease estimation at the Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in a statement.

“Now, we need to focus on preventing and treating these diseases, strengthening and expanding immunization programs, and developing brand-new vaccines against E. coli, norovirus, and Shigella,” Naghavi added, highlighting that the burden of disease is not shared equally.  

The research showed a stark geographic divide for enteric diseases, for instance, that are now heavily concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. This points to a clear need for targeted interventions in these regions.

Another example is malaria with the study finding that 90% of malaria deaths occur in a specific zone inhabited by only 12% of the global population. This zone stretches from Western Sub-Saharan Africa through Central Africa to Mozambique.

The fight against existing killers like heart disease, stroke, and cancer also shows a concerning disparity. While high-income countries have made significant strides, many low-income nations lag behind. This highlights the need for improved healthcare access and resources in these regions to ensure everyone benefits from advancements in medicine.

“The global community must ensure that the lifesaving tools that have cut deaths from ischemic heart disease, stroke, and other non-communicable diseases in most high-income countries are available to people in all countries, even where resources are limited,” said Eve Wool, senior author of the study and a senior research manager at IHME.

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