Indian life expectancy levels have shot up, but a lot still has to be done to compete with the best

Shubham Ghosh
Indian life expectancy levels have shot up, but a lot still has to be done to compete with the best

The world officially lost its last connection with the 19th century as Emma Morano, born in November 1899 in Italy's Piedmont, recently passed away in the city of Verbania. Morano, who credited three eggs a day and good genes as the reasons for her long lifespan, saw three centuries, two world wars, and as many as 90 governments in her country.

However, although it is sad that the death of Morano, who kicked out an abusive husband in her younger days, ended a chapter in the annals of human history, human beings registering long life spans are not too unusual nowadays.

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Emma Morano: Life expectancy levels have shot up across globe

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With the advent of medical science and more awareness about good health, the news of people joining the centenary club is not as surprising as it used to be 15 or 20 years ago. For instance, we often see people from Japan making headlines as the 'oldest living person', thanks to their high-quality diet, healthcare system and social cohesion that make life worth living.

In the Americas, western Europe and Australia as well, life expectancy levels are quite high compared to what it was even 50 years ago.

Life expectancy levels in India

In India, too, the life-expectancy level has gone up at an even faster rate compared to the West or China. Indians may not clock 100-plus years at the rate the Japanese or Americans do, but their lifespans have improved considerably, compared to the 1940s or 1950s.

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In 2014, the Government of India released reports that showed that the life expectancy levels for Indians went up by five years between 2001-05 and 2011-15. While the figures rose from 62.3 years to 67.3 years in case of men, it went up from 64 to 70 in case of women during the same period. From around 36 in 1950, the jump is nearly cent per cent in six decades.

Life expectancy levels in 2015: Top 5 countries & India [Source: WHO]
Country Years
#1 JAPAN 83.7
#5 SPAIN 82.8
INDIA [RANKED 125] 68.3

In the US, the average life-expectancy levels reached 78.8, which is a record high with women (81.7) doing better than men (76.4). In Japan, the country that the World Health Organisation ranked as No 1 on the life-expectancy chart in 2015, the average life span of men is 80.5 years while for women, it is 86.83 years – again a record high.

On the other side of the spectrum, several countries in Africa have poor life-expectancy levels even though living conditions are improving [Angola, for instance, had the second worst life-expectancy level of 52.4 in 2015, yet even that was 12-points better than their figure of 40.4 years, registered in 1980.

India's record has improved yet it has a lot to do to reach the best

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The lifespan of people all across the globe is generally increasing and Indians will do well not feel complacent about the increase over the decades. If we compare our position with China, which we consider as one of our foremost rivals in development economics, its rank is 53 in the WHO's global chart of 2015 with the average longevity of 76.1 years.

Pakistan, on the other hand, is ranked 130 on the list with the average lifespan of 68.3 years. Even India's small South Asian neighbours: Sri Lanka (70), Bangladesh (102), Bhutan (114) and Nepal (118) fare better on the chart.

Life expectancy levels of India & its neighbouring countries in 2015 [Source: WHO]
Countries Years
INDIA [Global rank 125] 68.3
CHINA [53] 76.1
PAKISTAN [130] 66.4
NEPAL [118] 69.2
SRI LANKA [70] 74.9
BHUTAN [114] 69.8
MYANMAR [129] 66.6
MALDIVES [34] 78.5
BANGLADESH [102] 71.8

So, what are the implications of India's good-yet-not-excellent figures? The life expectancy level determined by the WHO also includes aspects like mortality rates and the general state of health in the population.

The country's improving life-expectancy levels have proved that crucial aspects like infant mortality ratio, maternal mortality rate and food security have improved over the decades. Thanks to developments in medical science, growing awareness levels, and reduction in food supply crises (there are far fewer famines today), the rate of deaths has declined significantly.

To get life-expectancy past 70, India has to address a whole host of issues 

However, to take things beyond 70 and compete with the best, India will have to, as a former editor of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics felt, address environmental issues.

Supply of clean potable water and efficient tackling of disease are issues that plague India – its poorer sections and their children. Although India has successfully eradicated a number of fatal diseases, its healthcare facilities need to be more efficient and cheaper for the financially weaker sections to be able to afford access.

In fact, India's responsibility increases with its better rank on the life-expectancy chart. For with people living longer, the burden on social and medical sectors also increases; the demand for food security goes up and it becomes all the more challenging to turn mere living into a worthy life.

Japan, the West and many other countries have done it as part of their sustainable development. India is still in the lower half in the race. How much further it can go in this competition is the real question.


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