Longer lives - and healthier ones, too

WHO report shows UAE has come a long way since 1990 in decreasing deaths from a variety of causes and that life expectancy is rising.

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Source: World Health Organisation

Of all the WHO's Global Health Indicators, it is mortality rates, it says, that "provide a good picture of overall population health" - and the UAE's performance since 1990 over several key indicators shows just how quickly the country continues to develop.

Life expectancy increased from 73 years in 1990 to 78 by 2007. Women, living to an average age of 80, do slightly better than men at 77. In 2007 "healthy life expectancy" for both men and women - defined as the "number of years that a person can expect to live in full health by taking into account years lived in less than full health due to disease and/or injury" - was 68. Adult health, expressed in terms of the chance of dying between the ages of 15 and 60, has improved dramatically, from a probability of 131 per 1,000 population in 1990 to 75 in 2007.

One measure is years of life lost, which depends on a complex formula under which greater weight is given to younger deaths. Out of every 10 deaths worldwide, says the WHO, six are due to noncommunicable conditions, three to communicable, reproductive or nutritional conditions and one to injuries. In the UAE, 18 per cent of years are lost to communicable disease, but noncommunicable diseases account for 53 per cent and injuries 28; these figures compare with 12, 70 and 18 per cent for the region as a whole.

Neonatal deaths - those under the age of one month - account for 41.4 per cent of deaths of children under five in the UAE. In the UK and the US, for example, the figures are 52.6 and 50.4, respectively. The percentage of neonatal deaths from diarrhoea, however, is high at just over 10 per cent. This compares with 0.1 per cent for the UK and US and is closer to the proportion in countries such as Zimbabwe.

The UAE has the lowest mortality rate for children under five in the WHO's entire Eastern Mediterranean Region - a marked contrast to the situation when the Oasis Hospital opened in Al Ain in 1960; infant and maternal death rates then were 50 and 35 per cent. Now, only eight in 1,000 children die before the age of five, compared with an average for the region of 82 and for Europe of 15. Of the other five GCC countries, all bar Saudi Arabia have rates between 10 and 12 deaths per thousand. For Saudi Arabia, the risk jumps to 25 per thousand.

The UAE fares less well in maternal mortality, lying fifth in the table for the region, with 37 deaths per 100,000 births. Kuwait fares best, with just four, followed by Qatar with 12, Saudi Arabia (18) and Bahrain (32). The regional average in Europe is 27 and the US rate is 11. In the GCC, Oman has the worst rate, at 64 per 100,000. Every birth in the UAE is attended by skilled health personnel, with all six GCC partners scoring close to 100 per cent for this indicator.

On the other hand, with 92 per cent coverage, the UAE is lagging slightly behind its Gulf neighbours with its measles immunisation programme among one-year-olds - Bahrain tops the table with 99 per cent - yet is still above the regional average of 84 per cent and on a par with Europe and the US, at 94 and 93 per cent, respectively. The number of births in the UAE among girls aged 15 to 19, regarded as a risk to the physical and emotional health of mother and child, is relatively high - 23 per 1,000 girls, compared with seven in Saudi Arabia and 16 in Qatar, the GCC's nearest neighbour in this category.

The UAE's score is comparable to the average in Europe - 24 births per 1,000 adolescent girls - but lower than that in the US (41). jgornall@thenational.ae