AIDS Lowers Life Expectancy in Developing Countries; Improvements Needed to Basic Health Care, WHO Report Says
Although life expectancy has improved by almost 20 years worldwide, the improvements are not consistent, as life expectancy has dropped in some developing countries -- especially those in sub-Saharan Africa -- primarily because of the impact of AIDS, according to the World Health Organization's annual report released on Thursday, the Boston Globe reports. According to the report, titled "World Health Report 2003 -- Shaping the Future," life expectancy has risen from 46.5 years in 1950-1955 to 65.2 years in 2002. However, life expectancy in countries in Southern Africa -- including Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe -- has fallen by more than 20 years in the past 10 years, and "it soon could get much worse," the Globe reports. According to the report, Mozambique's life expectancy, which is currently 42, could drop to 27 by 2010 if HIV/AIDS "is not halted or reversed," according to the Globe (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 12/18). According to a WHO press release, AIDS-related complications kill 5,000 men and women and 1,000 children every day in the poorest African nations. In addition, only 5% of HIV/AIDS patients who need antiretroviral therapy in developing countries receive the treatments, creating a gap in care that WHO has called a "global health emergency" (WHO release, 12/18).
Improving Health Care
The report says that efforts to combat individual diseases are "essential" but that policymakers must address overall health care services, because faltering health care could "increase the risk that epidemics will spread," the AP/Dallas Morning News reports. HIV/AIDS' impact on medical services in developing countries means that health care systems have trouble caring for people with other diseases, therefore increasing the gap between rich and poor countries (Fowler, AP/Dallas Morning News, 12/18). The report recommends that an international response address "critical" shortages of health care workers, inadequate health information, a lack of financial resources and the need for more government leadership focused on "improving the health of the poorest members of society," according to the release (WHO release, 12/18). The report says that the most critical issue facing health care systems in developing countries is a shortage of health care workers, which "severely constrains the response to the AIDS treatment emergency and development of health systems driven by primary health care" (Capella, Agence France-Presse, 12/18).
Robert Beaglehole, editor in chief of the report, said that in the coming year WHO will focus on two priorities: building health systems to lessen the gap in life expectancy between rich and poor countries and increasing HIV/AIDS treatment to combat the disease's negative impact. Beaglehole said that WHO "will be very active on HIV and AIDS, because there hasn't been such a reversal like this of life expectancy, at such a scale, since the Black Death of the 14th century" (Boston Globe, 12/18). WHO Director-General Jong-Wook Lee said, "These global health gaps are unacceptable. Effective action to improve population health is possible in every country but it takes local knowledge and strength and sustained international support to turn that possibility into reality" (AP/Dallas Morning News, 12/18).