Yawning gap in life expectancy between rich and poor countries – WHO

Women aged 50 and above are healthier now than they were two to three decades ago, the latest study of the World Health Organization reports. However, despite this improvement, the life expectancy gap is widening between older women in rich and poor countries.

Globally, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), particularly cancers of the stomach, colon, breast and cervix, heart disease and strokes are the leading causes of death among women aged 50 and above. But, these diseases take a toll at a much earlier age in developing countries than in developed countries.

As poor and developing countries lack the money and resources to prevent, detect and treat non-communicable diseases, inhabitant women are meeting an early end, the report states.

“The gap in life expectancy between such women in rich and poor countries is growing,” the WHO study, part of an issue of the WHO’s monthly bulletin devoted to women’s health reported.

“More women can expect to live longer and not just survive child birth and childhood. But what we found is that improvement is much stronger in the rich world than in the poor world. The disparity between the two is increasing,” Dr. John Beard, director of WHO’s department of ageing and life course, said in an interview.

According to the findings, women over 50, on average, have gained 3.5 years in life expectancy over the past 2 decades. While, German and Japanese women now can expect to live to 84 and 88 years respectively, the life expectancy in other developed countries has increased significantly.

On the contrary, the life expectancy for women in the poorer countries is about a decade less as compared to women in developed countries. Women in Eastern Europe and African die at a much early age, the report marked.

Besides infrastructure constraints, high rates of smoking and alcohol consumption also act as major risk factors, Colin Mathers, head of the WHO Mortality and Burden of Disease Unit, said.

“Many of the problems faced by older women start earlier in life. So, smoking for example- people typically develop the habit at earlier ages. So, it is not only about intervening in older years-improving conditions and education and providing information to younger people can ultimately assist in improving health at older ages as well,” Mathers averred.

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