Belarus is a former member of the Soviet Union, located between Russia, Poland and Lithuania. Like most post-Soviet states, Belarus has experienced substantial economic and societal problems since attaining sovereignty. The country has developed under a dictatorship and today Belarus has virtually full employment and an official poverty rate of less than six percent. However, the country still faces significant obstacles to public health and economic development. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in Belarus.
10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Belarus
- There is a Stark Gender Gap: The first of the 10 facts about life expectancy in Belarus is that the average life expectancy is 73 years, but there is a significant disparity in life expectancy between males and females. While women in Belarus have an average life expectancy of 79 years, men in the country live until only 67.8 on average. Non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death in Belarus. While a genetic predisposition is typically the leading risk factor for non-communicable disease, lifestyle choices are commonly to blame in Belarus. The biggest risk factors for both Belarusian men and women are alcohol consumption, tobacco use and a lack of exercise.
- Alcoholism is a Major Problem: Belarus is one of the heaviest alcohol consuming countries in the world. In 2010, Belarusian males consumed an average of almost 29 liters of pure alcohol per capita annually. By 2016, this number was down to 18 liters per capita, which was still triple the global average. Alcohol abuse has concrete consequences for life expectancy in Belarus as alcohol consumption was the cause of over half of liver disease in Belarus in 2016.
- There is a Culture of Male Tobacco Use: Almost half of all adult men in Belarus smoke daily, while less than 10 percent of women do. Despite laws establishing an age minimum of 18 for purchasing tobacco, one in every 20 boys between 10 and 14 years old identified themselves as daily smokers in 2016 alone. That same year, tobacco use related to over a quarter of deaths from non-communicable diseases among males in Belarus.
- Men Often Die Early: Premature death is very common, particularly among males, skewing data for the average life expectancy for men in Belarus. In contemporary Belarus, an average of close to 40 percent of men dies prematurely between the ages of 30 and 70. Non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death in Belarus, accounting for almost 90 percent of all mortalities and the vast majority of premature deaths.
- Belarus Guarantees Health Care: The Constitution of Belarus guarantees that the government will provide free, accessible health care to all Belarusians. This does not translate into universally free health care but does include free emergency care, vaccinations, hospital stays and childbirth. According to the 2019 Bloomberg Health Efficiency Index, Belarus ranks within the top 50 most efficient health care systems globally.
- Suicide is Prevalent: In 2019, Belarus had the fifth-highest suicide rate in the world. Further, men were reportedly six times more at risk than women. This is largely linked to alcoholism, which is far more common among Belarusian men than women.
- Premature Death Hurts Economically and Demographically: According to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization, the loss of productivity and government expenditure associated with premature deaths cost the Belarusian economy over five percent of its GDP every year. Belarus is one of the fastest shrinking countries due to its net population decline of 750,000 since 1990.
- Substance Abuse is a Rural Problem: Rural regions of Belarus, particularly those bordering Russia and Lithuania, experience many alcohol-related deaths at a disproportionate level. This is largely due to increased poverty, which fuels the widespread production of homemade alcohol. One of the first-ever studies on rural alcoholism and homemade alcohol took place in 2016, but due to its significant impact on life expectancy in Belarus, as well as its unregulated nature, the government has made the alcohol black market a legislative priority.
- Many Slavic Countries Have Similar Problems: Russia, Belarus’s closest ally, has higher rates of suicide, substance abuse and premature mortality than its neighbor. It has a similar gender gap in life expectancy and is also experiencing a decline in population. Belarus’ cultural, political and geographic proximity to countries like Russia, which have similar cultures of unhealthiness, strengthen may of its problems.
- The Government Has Made Steps: The government of Belarus has taken action recently to improve the country’s health standards. In 2018, the World Health Organization reported that the total alcohol consumption per capita had fallen to just 10 liters. In February 2019, the Belarusian president instituted new regulations on the tobacco industry in order to decrease its use, particularly around children.
These 10 facts about life expectancy in Belarus show that the tradition of substance abuse impacts the country’s life expectancy gravely, which Belarus largely ignored until recent years. Belarus’ robust health care system shows that the government has an interest in public health. Until recent years, state-run and international health organizations alike had difficulty combating the country’s culture of unhealthiness. This has become a clear governmental priority as reflected in the gradual shift toward more restricted access to tobacco and alcohol.
Since 2015, more studies on alcoholism in Belarus have published than ever before, and the issues of premature death and life expectancy have become common pieces of the national dialogue. Although Belarus has not yet definitively solved the problem of premature death and substance abuse, the country is certainly on the right path to reversing its health trends.