Life expectancy in Uganda has significantly improved in the past decade. Ugandan men born in 2016 are now projected to live 59.8 years, and women have a life expectancy of 64.8 years. This is a marked increase from 2000 when Uganda’s average life expectancy was only 47 years.
The higher rate of life expectancy correlates to more expected years of schooling (11.6 years) and an improved Human Development Index (HDI) value, a summary measure that assesses the long-term progress of a given nation. In 2017, Uganda’s HDI value was 0.516, a substantial 66 percent jump from 1990.
Raising the Life Expectancy Rate
The Ugandan government is working proactively to raise the life expectancy rate even more in the future. In conjunction with The Family Planning Association of Uganda, its initiatives include lowering the population growth rate from 3 percent to 2.6 percent, improving the current population’s physical and mental health as well as social standards and implementing fertility reduction measures. The government additionally plans to incorporate sex education in schools, maternity and paternity benefits and raising the legal marriage age.
The government’s efforts to limit population growth have proven to be effective. “[B]ecause they have smaller families than in the 1980s that makes them enjoy some kind of mental peace and increase their life expectancy,” said Paul Nyende, the head of The Institute of Community Psychology at Makerere University. He also added, “People had an average of eight children in those years, but the number has now been reduced to four because they are sure of their children’s survival.”
Life expectancy in Uganda is steadily improving, but there is much work to be done. Uganda has not yet met the threshold of a developed country. Even with Uganda’s improved HDI, the East African country still remains low in the development category when compared to the 70 years or more found in developed countries.
Issues That Need to Be Addressed
The country’s health care continues to be among the worst in the world. In fact, according to The World Health Organization, Uganda is ranked 186 out of 191 nations. This has gotten worse in recent years since many of Uganda’s hospitals have closed and a large number of medical personnel have left the country for better opportunities.
“Communicable diseases like HIV, malaria and lower respiratory infections are still taking the lives of far too many Ugandans. Children are at particular risk, and neonatal ailments like sepsis, pre-term birth and encephalopathy have killed thousands of infants. There is still a lot of work to be done…” said Dr. Dan Kajungu, Executive Director of Makerere University Centre for Health and Population Research (MUCHAP).
However, Uganda has already set itself up as a global example in regards to addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Uganda continues to successfully combat HIV/AIDS with a comprehensive strategy involving abstinence, partner reduction and barrier protection, all resulting in the reduction of HIV to a manageable level since the early 2000s. This is in contrast to rising HIV rates in many other countries and has played a key part in Uganda’s improvements to life expectancy.
Furthermore, improvements have been made in the health sector in regards to maternal and child mortality rates, which have dropped from 488 to 336 per 1000 for maternal and 54 to43 per 1000 infant. Immunizations are up as well. At least 72 percent of children will receive measles vaccination before their first birthday.
Going forward, in order to continue increasing life expectancy rates in Uganda, the government must entice skilled Ugandans living abroad to return as well as provide opportunities for people currently living in the country, like education and better career options. If the same rapid acknowledgment is given to other areas of concern in national health, life expectancy in Uganda can only rise.
The government is taking steps in the meantime to nurture their health sector despite the imminent challenges. Goals include movement towards universal health coverage, bolstering immunization rates and having prepared responses to disease outbreaks. The future is promising, and Uganda’s ministry of health expects further improvement as other initiatives take deeper root.
– Yumi Wilson