Global life expectancy reaches new heights but 21 million face premature death this year, warns WHO
The World Health Report 1998 offers an optimistic picture of the 21st century
Life in the 21st century should be healthier and better as well as longer for more people than ever before, the World Health Organization says in a major report published today. It predicts that worldwide, premature deaths - defined as occurring before the age of 50 years - will be cut by half by the year 2025. But it warns that in 1998 over 7 million adults will die before reaching this age, and 10 million children will die before their fifth birthday.
In The World Health Report 1998: Life in the 21st century a vision for all, WHO says global life expectancy at birth, now 66 years, is projected to reach 73 years by 2025. Many thousands of people born at the end of the 20th century will live throughout the 21st and see the advent of the 22nd century. For example, France is projected to have 150 000 centenarians by the year 2050, compared to only 200 in 1950.
However, Dr Hiroshi Nakajima, DirectorGeneral of WHO, points out that the extra years are unequally shared among rich and poor. "Tragically, while average life expectancy has been increasing throughout the 20th century, 3 out of 4 people in the least developed countries today are dying before the age of 50 - the global life expectancy figure of half a century ago," he says.
"This year, 21 million deaths - 2 out of every 5 worldwide - will be among the under50s, including those of 10 million small children who will never see their fifth birthday.
"Over seven million will be among men and women in what should be some of the best and most productive years of their lives. Reducing these premature deaths is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity at the dawn of the 21st century."
The World Health Report 1998 uses data gathered in the past 50 years since the Organization was founded, combined with WHO's latest assessment of global health, to project health trends to the year 2025. In general, the report offers an optimistic view of the future. It says that five decades of socioeconomic development and major advances in health have benefited people in most countries, and are likely to continue in the 21st century, unless a major economic crisis arises.
"The most important pattern of progress now emerging in general is an unmistakable trend towards healthier, longer life," it says.