According to the United Nations’ World Population Prospects, between 2010 and 2015, the average life expectancy worldwide at birth was 71.5 years (68 years and 4 months for males and 72 years and 8 months for females). The figures represented an increase of 3 percent over the previous five years. They also reflected an improvement in the quality of healthcare in several countries as well as other factors including ongoing wars, obesity, and HIV/AIDS infections.
The current world population of 7.6 billion is expected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100.
The countries with the lowest overall life expectancies are located in East and West Africa while those with the highest are in the developed countries of Europe, Asia and North America.
Life expectancy equals the average number of years a person born in a given country is expected to live if mortality rates at each age were to remain steady in the future. Life expectancy at birth is also a measure of overall quality of life in a country and the mortality at all ages. It is measured separately for males and females to form an overall figure for each country.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), life expectancy for women has always been slightly higher than for men, and that women live longer than men in all major regions and in all individual countries except for Swaziland and Mali.
In the Caribbean excluding Guyana, a joint health study by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the WHO shows that there has been an increase of 16 years in life expectancy on average in the last 40 years, which means that a person born in the region can now aspire to live until age 75, almost four years longer than the world average.
While life expectancy has increased all the countries in the Caribbean, some have gained a lot more than others. The countries that have gained the most over the past 40 years are Martinique, Guadeloupe and Haiti. Both Martinique and Guadeloupe have increased their life expectancy by 15 years and Haiti by 14 years.(
However, three of the more advanced CARICOM countries, Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago saw their life expectancy grow by only five years between 1970 and 2010. Such small increase is not caused by violence as many had believed, but by heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, cancer and HIV/AIDS due to unhealthy diets, lack of exercise, and smoking and drinking alcohol.
In Guyana, the life expectancy rate increased from 62 years in 1970 to 68 years in 2015, which means that Guyana’s position worsened among the 192 countries surveyed, dropping from 137th place in 2012 to 140th in 2015. The ten major causes of death in Guyana are hypertension, stroke, diabetes, cancer, suicide, traffic fatalities, violence and HIV/AIDS.
In Cuba, life expectancy is 78 years on average throughout all the provinces and not just in the urban areas, where health care services tend to be of better quality. It is among the highest in the world. Despite its status as a low-income country, Cuba’s medical system, which places emphasis on prevention, is recognized as one of the best in the world.
While people are living longer in the Caribbean, the region has the highest mortality rate in the Americas from non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the leading cause of death. More than 40 percent of NCD deaths are occurring prematurely in people under 70 years old.
Health experts have warned that the NCDs such as cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, kidney disease and stroke have worsened over the years in some Caribbean countries. It is estimated that NCDs are responsible for four out of five deaths per year. This figure is expected to increase in the coming decades due to population growth, aging and exposure to different risk factors.
Caribbean leaders must decide on the way forward in tackling the epidemic. They must act, especially given the heavy importation of processed food and sugar-sweetened beverages, all of which have led to obesity.
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