David E. Bloom, Alyssa Lubet and Elizabeth Mitgang, of the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, discuss past progress, the current situation and future prospects of global health, arguing the world has come a long way, but still has a long way to go.
Health is a fundamental aspect of well-being, and there are multiple pathways through which good health improves individual and societal welfare. Despite current and future challenges – including Ebola, antimicrobial resistance, and non-communicable diseases – health innovations hold promise for making the world healthier, wealthier, and more equitable and secure. Health spending is more than consumption; it is an investment in growth and poverty reduction.
One of the clearest indications of health advances is increasing longevity. Since 1950, average global life expectancy at birth has increased more than 23 years, and is projected to increase almost another seven years by 2050, as shown in Figure 1. This steady increase in life expectancy reflects a sharp drop in infant and child mortality and longer lives for individuals surviving to adulthood. Life expectancy at birth hovered around 25-30 years throughout most of human history, making these gains among humankind’s greatest achievements. Although living longer may not necessarily mean living better, life expectancy gains are a hopeful indicator of what is possible in the face of serious health threats, including infectious diseases like Ebola, malaria, tuberculosis and HIV, as well as chronic infirmities, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease, and diabetes.
In 2015, an estimated 6.1 million children will die before age five, reflecting a decline from 90 child deaths per thousand live births in 1990, to 42.5 in 2015. However, even this level of child mortality highlights a major failing of health systems. Most early childhood deaths can be prevented with relatively inexpensive measures such as vaccination, oral rehydration, improved nutrition, access to contraception, use of insecticide-treated bed nets, improved prenatal care, and reliance on skilled birth attendants…
*Statistics within article correct at original publication date of CHOGM 2015 Report.
David E. Bloom, Alyssa Lubet and Elizabeth Mitgang
of the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health