WHO Department of Mortality and Burden of Disease coordinator Colin Mathers told Voice of America that astonishing progress has been made in global life expectancy.
“We are estimating that over the 25 years of the Millennium Development Goal period, there has been a six year increase in life expectancy and that translates to two-and-one half years a decade. That is quite astonishing for the whole world. It partly reflects the improvements in child mortality … But also the turning around of the HIV epidemic and other causes of death. These are all reflected in life expectancy of the poorer countries,” said Mathers.
Some years ago, Oeppen and Vaupel plotted the “frontier” of human life expectancy across 300 years (Oeppen J, Vaupel JW. Broken limits to life expectancy. Science 2002;296:1029-31) . Each observation represented the highest national life expectancy at that point in time. The frontier countries included Scandinavian countries, Australia and New Zealand around the early part of the 20th century, and of course, Japan in the most recent years. Their stunning observation was that this frontier had been increasing at an essentially constant rate of 2.5 years per decade for 200 years. And now we see that the average global life expectancy has been increasing at essentially the frontier rate over the last 25 years – the Millenium Development Goal period. of course, the MDGs were formulated and adopted at the beginning of the 2000s, so the progress in the 1990s cannot be attributed to them, although 1990 was the base year chosen for monitoring progress to 2015. However the MDGs do appear to have resulted in accelerated progress, at least for child mortality and the infectious diseases. Noncommunicable diseases and injuries myst await the Strategic Development Goals for 2030 now under development by the UN system.
When HIV was at its peak in Africa, Dr. Mathers says countries were experiencing 10-15 year reductions in average life expectancy. He says people globally are living on average 71 years.