Life expectancy rises despite pandemic deaths

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Life expectancy around the world has increased by more than six years in the past 30 years. | Photo: Cecilie Arcurs (iStock)

Life expectancy globally increased by 6.2 years over the past 30 years as health systems made progress battling respiratory infections, as well as stroke and ischemic heart disease.

However, the progress was marred by the COVID-19 pandemic which became the first new top five cause of death in decades. Researchers are also warning that kidney disease and diabetes are increasing in every country.

A study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, published in the Lancet journal, found there was particular progress in the Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Oceania regions with a net gain in life expectancy between 1990 and 2021 of 8.3 years, despite the COVID set-back.

The findings came as new Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates showed Australia had an estimated 182,038 deaths in 2023, 4.6 percent lower than the previous year.

In 2023, COVID was responsible for 2.8 percent (4387) of deaths compared with 5.9 percent (9840) in 2022.

Cancer remained the leading cause of death in Australia at 32 percent and combined heart and cardiac disease accounted for more than 15 percent.

Dementia caused 10.6 percent of deaths and respiratory diseases nine percent.

World Bank figures show that in 2021 the average life expectancy at birth around the world was 71 years, 20 years higher than in 1950.

Australia was near the top end of the scale at 83 years, similar to countries like Canada, Iceland, Israel, Norway, Italy, Singapore, Spain, Sweden and Malta.

A handful of countries have a longer average life span, including Japan (84), Switzerland (84), Liechtenstein (84) and Hong Kong (85).

Despite the progress on life expectancy, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation study revealed growing threats from non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes and kidney diseases, which were increasing in every country.

There was also “uneven progress” against conditions such as ischemic heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

“Our study presents a nuanced picture of the world’s health,” lead researcher Liane Ong said.

“On one hand, we see countries’ monumental achievements in preventing deaths from diarrhea and stroke,” she said. “At the same time, we see how much the COVID-19 pandemic has set us back.”

More detail can be found on the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation website and the World Bank website.