The world is advancing at an incredible rate and healthcare, disease eradication, technology and new attitudes have all played important roles in this global progression. This means it is certainly not unreasonable to expect life expectancy rates to slowly rise in many different nations. Moreover, data shows that this is indeed the case in many countries.
Unfortunately, for reasons such as lack of resources and healthcare opportunities, corruption, psychological decline and economic reasons, some nations have fallen behind the global average for life expectancy rate and are struggling to meet up with the recent rise, most disturbingly, South Africa is one of those countries.
A new study has revealed how long South Africans are expected to live – not that long in comparison to the rest of the world.
According to the most recent survey carried out by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, South Africa is one of the 11 countries experiencing a decline in life expectancy. Data was collected from 188 countries to come up with the list of global data and it is quite alarming that in the male figures, South Africa was ranked at 169th and 162nd for the female life expectancy.
Generally speaking, the average global figure for life expectancy has risen by an impressive 6.2 years since 1990.
What is most remarkable about the data is that the South African average clearly shows that the country has hit a decline of around 4.3 years since 1990. This means that there is a 24 year gap when the threat to life from disease and violence should have been lessened but apparently has only become worse.
Back in 1990, it was expected that South African men would live to be up to 60.5 years – which is not especially old compared to other nations – but this has now declined to 57.7. For women, the decline is even worse; you may be expected to outlive your husband as the average female life expectancy is currently 63 years but in 1990 it was up as high as 68.9. To put all of this in further perspective, the average global life expectancy is just shy of 72 years – almost 15 years older than a that of an average South African man.
One may be tempted to ask ‘why the ongoing decline? What is happening in South Africa that means its countrymen, and women, are not living as long as they are supposed to?
There are a number of contributing factors to this issue and the key problem affecting mortality rates, as you may expect, is disease. In 1990, when women were on average living 5 years longer, the primary killer was pneumonia, which caused over 26,614 deaths that year, while a further 21,360 died as a result of stroke.
In comparison, the death rate from HIV/Aids was pretty low at 415 as at 1990. Fast forward to 2013 and the story is very different; not only are these illnesses responsible for 51% of all deaths when this figure was as low as 15% in 1990, it appears that HIV is on the rise while pneumonia has declined. Pneumonia is no longer the top killer because the top two causes of death are now HIV/Aids and interpersonal violence – particularly in the 15-49 age group. When the figures for both factors were combined in 1990 the result was 2,460 deaths but in 2013, this rose to 191,792 – a rather scary increase that highlights some of the most drastic issues with modern South African culture.
Then comes the better question ‘What can we take away from this alarming news about the state of South African life expectancy?’
There are two ways of looking at this data: On one side, there is the positive approach taken by some in the medical profession where focus is placed on the decline in death from a range of treatable illnesses, the investment in healthcare and the lessons that can be learned. Also, in the words of University of Cape Town professor of medicine Dr Bongani Mayosi “We have achieved great progress in reducing mortality from a number of diseases, reflecting our country’s investments in improving health for its citizens”.
Healthcare issues are still a vital part of the problem, but while pneumonia is decreasing, the prevalence and mortality of HIV and Aids is still a massive concern, and when the it is combined with the figures for violent crimes, the death rate rises even higher. The bigger issue of these South African life expectancy rates it is not just a case of what is going wrong but also a case of what isn’t being done and what isn’t being properly addressed. What needs to change so that South Africa is no longer in that elite group of 11 declining nations?
Charity they say begins at home. Individually, we need to start taking better care of ourselves. The time has come for everyone to start watching what they eat and how they eat it. Gone are the days of self medication, learn to get yourselves and your loved ones to the nearest hospital or health center in case of emergencies. Be your first security guard and be sure not to go out when it is dark and if you must, don’t go alone. If we start from these simple basic rules, then of a truth, no matter what the figures say, we would surely enjoy a ripe old age.