African Life Expectancy Rising: Governments Must Be Doing Something Right

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Efforts to prevent HIV/AIDS infection and prolong lives with antiretroviral drugs have played a part in rising African longevity, which increased up to 42 percent since 2000, FinancialTimes reported.

Decreased infant and child mortality also played a part, thanks to programs such as treated bed nets to combat malaria.

Despite concerns about the quality of data collection in Africa, the improvement has been dramatic, said John May at the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, D.C.

The impressive rises in life expectancy suggest Africa has made strides since 2000, despite the current doom and gloom, said William Jackson, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, FinancialTimes reported.

Dramatic rises in Africans’ life expectancy suggest many governments improved their health systems and the well being of their people with the help of aid from donors such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

From 2000 to 2015, all sub-Saharan African countries saw life expectancy rise. None fell, according to life expectancy data from the World Bank, Financial Times reported.

This provides an upbeat counterpoint to the gloom of the Africa falling narrative, which questions the growth of Africa’s much-hyped rising middle class and charges African leaders with poor governance.

The International Monetary Fund predicts that economic growth across sub-Saharan Africa will slow to 3 percent in 2016, the weakest pace of growth since the new millennium began.

Mo Ibrahim’s respected Index of African Governance suggested that standards of governance have declined since the global financial crisis. Check out AFKInsider‘s report on 16 countries in Africa that Mo Ibrahim ranks highest for good governance.

The IMF warned that too few countries used the boom years to improve their public finances, reinforcing a picture of a continent that squandered its commodity-led windfall, according to FinancialTimes.

Leading the way in rising African life expectancy is Malawi, with a 42 percent jump from 2000, when residents could expect to live 44.1 years. In 2014, life expectancy was 62.7 years, according to World Bank.

Zimbabwe and Zambia both saw a 38 percent rise in life expectancy from 2000 to 2014. Botswana, Rwanda and Sierra Leone were up more than 30 percent.

Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Republic of Congo and Uganda all had more than 20 percent increases. Overall, of the 37 countries where life expectancy rose by more than 10 percent since 2000, 30 are in sub-Saharan Africa, including the 15 with the biggest gains, according to FinancialTimes.

This is a stark contrast to the 1990s, when the HIV/Aids epidemic was a major killer. Life expectancy fell in the 90s in countries including Botswana, Central African Republic, Kenya, Namibia, the Republic of Congo, and Zimbabwe, and the and only went up slightly in many others.

Seven African countries are notable for their health care systems, Netherlands-based tax audit firm KPMG said in a 2012 report. These included Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Libya, Mauritius, Rwanda, and South Africa.

KPMG identified these countries for reasons including rapid uptake of health insurance, high levels of total health care spending or innovative governance in the public sector.

“There have been significant rises in income across the region and more money for governments to spend on areas such as healthcare, as well as better medicine and better planning,” Jackson told FinancialTimes. “Governance in Africa has improved quite significantly over the past decade.”

Part of the reason for rising life expectancy is because international aid has refocused on areas such as education and healthcare, said Charles Robertson, global chief economist at Renaissance Capital.