Colombia is making remarkable strides towards improving its public health outcomes, including life expectancy.

Once ravaged by political instability and violence, the nation’s outlook is steadily improving. However, although the quality of life in major cities is improving, with increased access to health care and sanitation, rural Colombians have unequal access to these benefits that improve life expectancy.

In the article below, top 10 facts about life expectancy in Colombia are presented.

Top 10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Colombia

  1. According to the CIA World Fact Book, Colombians’ life expectancy rate is currently at 76.2 years, ranking the country 90th worldwide. Females live an average of 79.5 years and males live for 73 years. Overall life expectancy is up for nearly 20 years from the first data collection in 1960, when the life expectancy rate was at 56.75 years. The rate has increased by 5 years since the turn of the century.
  2. Concomitant with an improvement in life expectancy is a substantial decrease in infant mortality rate. When the World Bank began collecting data in 1960, Colombia’s infant mortality rate stood at 93.9 deaths per 1,000 births. As of 2017, that rate is 12.7, which is a reduction of 739 percent.
  3. Rising GDP per capita may help explain the increase in Colombia’s life expectancy. In a 10-year period, from 2003 to 2013, GDP per capita soared from $2,246 to $8,030. Although that number is slightly declining, this long period of sustained economic growth allows for improvement in health care infrastructure. Furthermore, more Colombians are able to afford access to clean water, sanitation, and health care treatments in comparison with previous generations.
  4. An astonishing success story in Colombia is a rapid decrease in the homicide rate. For decades, guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) waged a war of terror, resulting in millions of internally displaced persons and a high homicide rate. In 1996, during a particularly violent phase of the conflict, Colombia’s homicide rate stood at 71.8 per 100,000 persons. Today, two decades later, that number is at 25.5.
  5. Although urban access to sanitation and potable water is well established, rural Colombia lags behind. Colombia is an extremely mountainous country, with many villages and towns geographically isolated from urban centers. While 96.8 percent of the urban population has access to improved water sources, only 73.8 percent of the rural population does. Similarly, urban and rural differences exist in terms of improved sanitation, standing at 85.2 percent and 67.9 percent, respectively.
  6. Many rural villages suffer from inadequate medical facilities. Rural populations near the tropical rainforest and Magdalena River must also contend with mosquito-borne diseases including malaria, yellow fever and the Zika virus. According to Malteser International, in the tropical departments of Magdalena and La Guajira, almost 59 percent of the population suffers from malnutrition, and only around one in seven are able to access basic medical care. Additionally, indigenous tribes in Colombia often do not receive adequate health care. Many of these tribes reside in rural regions adversely affected by the conflict with the FARC. Consequently, the government has limited influence in terms of public health initiatives. Furthermore, environmental degradation from mining has threatened the health of Wayuu group, Colombia’s largest indigenous population. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs states that, as a result of coal mining along the Rancheria River, as many as 14,000 Wayuu children have died from starvation or thirst.
  7. Inefficiency among insurance providers in impeding the quality of treatment Colombian population receives plays a huge role in life expectancy in the country. All working Colombians have access to government-funded health care plans through their employer, although the individual providers of said plans can improve their implementation. A report from the OECD recommends “stronger performance and account management for health insurers”, meaning a better system to monitor insurers’ purchasing of services.
  8. Colombia is partnering with international organizations to improve food security for malnourished populations. The World Food Programme is working in conflict-affected regions to improve access to nutritious food. These initiatives include providing community meals, nutrition education and crop support for independent farmers.
  9. Both private and public sector expansion of the health care industry is taking place in Colombia. Drug companies and medical device manufacturers are investing in the market, reducing costs for Colombians through competition. Furthermore, the government is working to improve the number of hospital beds available. The current level is relatively low and stands at 1.58 beds per 100,000 individuals.
  10. The country has recorded continuous improvement in educational attainment. Since 1990, expected years of schooling increased from 9 years to 14.4 years. Education strongly correlates with higher personal health outcomes, as an educated population tends to make more health-conscious choices, such as improving their diet and visiting doctors. Education also correlates with higher socio-economic standing, which corresponds to improved sanitation. 

The coming years will be critical for Colombia and its development. Positivity abounds a growing economy, increased foreign investment and security in the country, as the top 10 facts about life expectancy in Colombia described above point out.

The incoming administration of the new president, Iván Duque Márquez, promises reforms, especially regarding rural infrastructure in rural Colombia. Implementing the same strategies that have served its urban areas well, should benefit rural Colombians’ health care outlook.

–  Joseph Banish