According to the 2019 World Health Statistics overview, women outlive men everywhere in the world, particularly in wealthy countries, with the gap between the poorest and richest countries’ life expectancy being 18.1 years. While these numbers may not mean much for the general public, breaking down these figures helps us understand who is being left behind and why. According to Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, “Behind every number in the World Health Statistics is a person, a family, a community or a nation. Our task is to use these data to make evidence-based policy decisions that move us closer to a healthier, safer, fairer world for everyone.”
From the report, it is found that where women can access health services, maternal deaths decrease, lengthening women’s life expectancy. This factor helps to reflect the relatively longer life expectancy for women. It is also found that in many circumstances, men’s access to health care is less than women and they are much more likely to die from preventable and treatable noncommunicable diseases and road traffic accidents. Consequently, the gap between men’s and women’s life expectancy is at its narrowest where women lack access to health services. For instance, in low-income countries, where services are scarcer, 1 in 41 women dies from a maternal cause, compared with 1 in 3300 women in high-income countries. In more than 90% of low-income countries, there are fewer than 4 nursing and midwifery personnel per 1000 people.
In studying why women outlive men, the underlying reason to why men access health care services less compared to women, can be attributed to the difference in attitude towards health care. When facing the same disease or diagnosis, men often seek health care less than women. For example, in countries with generalized HIV epidemics, men are less likely than women to take an HIV test, less likely to access antiretroviral therapy and more likely to die of AIDS-related illnesses than women. Similarly, male Tuberculosis patients appear to be less likely to seek care than female Tuberculosis patients.
The recent report also highlights the difference in causes of death between men and women – some biological, some influenced by environmental and societal factors, and some impacted by availability of and uptake of health services. From the report, out of the 40 leading causes of death, it was found that 33 of those causes contributed more to reduced life expectancy in men, as compared to women. As an illustration, in 2016, the probability of a 30-year-old dying from a noncommunicable disease before 70 years of age was 44% higher in men than women. Global suicide mortality rates were 75% higher in men than in women in the same year. With regards to motor vehicle and road traffic accidents, its death rate are more than twice as high in men than in women from age 15, and mortality rates due to homicide are 4 times higher in men than in women. All of which contributed to how and why women outlive men everywhere.
With the focus of this year’s World Health Day being on primary health care as the foundation of universal health coverage, the new WHO statistics highlight the need to improve access to primary health care worldwide and to increase uptake.
“One of WHO’s triple billion goals is for 1 billion more people to have universal health coverage by 2023,” said Dr. Tedros. “This means improving access to services, especially at community level, and making sure those services are accessible, affordable, and effective for everyone – regardless of their gender.”
“These statistics underscore the need to prioritize primary health care urgently to effectively manage noncommunicable diseases, and to curb risk factors.” said Dr. Samira Asma, WHO Assistant Director General for Data, Analytics and Delivery. “For example, something as simple as controlling blood pressure is just not happening on the scale needed and tobacco use remains a leading cause of premature death.”
While these numbers and the fact that women outlive men everywhere may sound grim, truth be told, life expectancy has improved since the year 2000. We have come a long way since then as global life-expectancy at birth increased by 5.5 years, from 66.5 to 72.0 years in 2016. One can also expect to live in full health for more number of years, an increased from 58.5 years in 2000 to 63.3 years in 2016. However, one thing that has remained consistent, life expectancy remains strongly affected by income. One child in every 14 born in a low-income country will die before their fifth birthday and as mentioned before, life expectancy is 18.1 years lower than in high-income countries.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.