Press Releases

    For information only - not an official document

    16 May 2013

    Progress in improving health in the poorest countries, but inequalities persist

    Highest life expectancy worldwide in Japan and Switzerland; lowest in Sierra Leone, according to World Health Organization study

    VIENNA, 16 May 2013 (UN Information Service) - With an average of 83 years Japan and Switzerland have the highest life expectancy in the world.  On the contrary, people in Sierra Leone have the lowest life expectancy with an average of 47 years, according to a new study by the World Health Organization.

    "World Health Statistics 2013" shows an average life expectancy for Austria of 81 years in 2011, up from 76 years in 1990. Women live to 84, men only reach 78 years. Neighbouring Slovenia has an average life expectancy of 80 years, Slovakia and Hungary both have 75 years.

    The annual World Health Statistics report presents the most recent health data for WHO member states and reports on countries' progress toward the health-related UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). As the Goals approach the 2015 deadline, this year's statistics show the considerable progress made in reducing child and maternal deaths, improving nutrition and reducing deaths and illness from HIV infection, tuberculosis and malaria.

    The report compares progress made by countries with the best health status and those with least-favourable health status at the MDG baseline year of 1990 and again two decades later. It shows that, in absolute terms, countries in the lowest 25 per cent category of health status have made impressive health progress.

    For example, the gap between countries with the highest and lowest rates of new HIV infections narrowed from 360 to 261 people per 100,000 population between 1990 and 2011. While new HIV infections increased six-fold for countries with the lowest rates, the group of countries with the highest rates have cut new HIV infections by 27 per cent. Looking at prevalence rates, Austria in 2011 had 209 cases per 100,000 population, Hungary 47, Slovenia 31 and Slovakia only 8 cases. The highest prevalence of HIV/Aids worldwide is found in Swaziland with 15,816 cases per 100,000 population.

    The absolute gap in child mortality between the top and bottom countries was reduced from 171 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 107 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2011. Some countries that were among those with the world's highest child mortality rates in 1990 - including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Madagascar, Nepal, Rwanda, Senegal and Timor-Leste - have improved child survival to such an extent that they no longer belong to that group.

    In 1990, countries with the highest rates of women dying in pregnancy and childbirth had on average 915 more maternal deaths per 100,000 live births than countries with the lowest rates. By 2010, this gap had narrowed to 512 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Unfortunately the global rate of decline (of 3 per cent) will need to double to achieve the MDG target of reducing maternal mortality ratio by three quarters.

    Other key trends in this year's report include:

    •           Access to medicines: Many low- and middle-income countries face a scarcity of medicines in the public sector, forcing people to the private sector where prices can be up to 16 times higher. In these countries, an average of only 57 per cent (and as little as 3 per cent) of selected generic medicines are available in the public sector.

    •           Diabetes: Almost 10 per cent of the world's adult population has diabetes, measured by elevated fasting blood glucose (≥126mg/dl). People with diabetes have increased risk of stroke and are 10 times more likely to need a lower limb amputation than people who do not have diabetes.

    •           Preterm births: Every year around 15 million babies are born preterm (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) and one million of them die. Preterm birth is the world's leading killer of newborn babies and the second most important cause of death (after pneumonia) in all children aged less than 5 years.

    * *** *

    About the World health statistics

    Published annually by WHO, the World Health Statistics is the most comprehensive publication of health-related global statistics available. It contains data from 194 countries on a range of mortality, disease and health system indicators including life expectancy, illnesses and deaths from key diseases, health services and treatments, financial investment in health, as well as risk factors and behaviours that affect health.

    World Health Statistics 2013 is available in English at: