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China’s wealth pays off in health

Children born in China can now expect to live longer than those born in most of eastern Europe, underlining the profound improvements in health that can accompany burgeoning prosperity.

A comprehensive World Health Organisation snapshot of global health trends has highlighted the big health gains to be made from economic development, showing that life expectancy at birth in China jumped more than 10 per cent between 1990 and 2011 to reach 76 years – outstripping the median gain among all countries of 7 per cent.

The WHO figures, published in World Health Statistics 2013, show enormous strides have been made in improving infant health in China in the past two decades.

Between 1990 and 2011 China’s neonatal mortality rate per 1000 live births plunged from 23 to 9, the probability of a child dying in their first year plummeted from 39 to 13 per 1000 live births and the under-five mortality rate fell more than two-thirds from 49 to 15.

The results have contributed to worldwide improvement in infant survival rates – child mortality fell by an average 2.5 per cent a year between 1990 and 2011, and the number of child deaths virtually halved from 12 million to less than seven million over the same period.

But, despite the gains, the WHO has warned that the goal to cut the 1990 child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 will be missed, with millions of children continuing to die each year from easily preventable or treatable causes.

According to the WHO report, which provides key health indicator data from 194 countries, pneumonia was the biggest killer of children younger than five years in 2010, accounting for 14 per cent of all deaths, followed by complications associated with pre-term birth (around one million deaths), diarrhoea (10 per cent of deaths, malaria (7 per cent), HIV/AIDS (2 per cent) and measles (1 per cent).

The WHO figures make clear that, worldwide, malaria remains a major problem.

Almost 24 million people contracted the disease in 2011 – including more than 20 million in sub-Saharan Africa, and two million in south-east Asia.

Tuberculosis also exacts a heavy toll, infecting almost 5.8 million deaths in 2011 – mainly in south-east Asia, Africa and the western Pacific.

While such infectious diseases are relatively uncommon in high-income countries, their citizens are nonetheless caught up in the diabetes tidal wave sweeping the world – almost 10 per cent of all adults suffer from the condition, which is particularly prevalent in the eastern Mediterranean and the Americas.

When it comes to getting access to care, the WHO data suggest Australians are far better served than most.

They show that in Australia there were 38.5 doctors and almost 96 nurses and midwives for every 10,000 people, which compares favourably with the global average of just 14 physicians and 29 nurses.

Even among well-off countries, Australia appears particularly well served: the average among high-income nations is 27 doctors and 72 nurses per 10,000 people.

Less flattering are comparisons of the provision of hospital beds.

In Australia, there are 39 beds per 10,000 people, above the global average of 30 per 10,000, but well below the wealthy country average of 56 beds per 10,000.

For more details, the WHO report can be viewed at:

http://www.who.int/gho/publications/world_health_statistics/2013/en/

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