countries with the lowest life expectancyThere are a lot of factors that contribute to a country’s life expectancy. Some of these contributing factors are economic conditions, diet, public health, access to medical care, wars, crime rate etc. Because of this, a lot of the countries on this list are African countries plagued by poverty.

According to the CIA’s World Factbook, these are the top 20 countries with the lowest life expectancy as of 2017.

  1. Chad – 50.6
  2. Guinea-Bissau – 51.6
  3. Afghanistan – 51.7
  4. Gabon – 52.1
  5. Swaziland – 52.1
  6. Zambia – 52.7
  7. Central African Republic – 52.8
  8. Somalia – 52.8
  9. Lesotho – 53
  10. Mozambique – 53.7
  11. Nigeria – 53.8
  12. Burkina Faso – 55.9
  13. Niger – 55.9
  14. Uganda – 55.9
  15. Sierra Leone – 58.6
  16. Cameroon – 59
  17. Cote d’Ivoire – 59
  18. Republic of the Congo – 59.8
  19. Zimbabwe – 59.8
  20. Angola – 60.2

The overwhelming majority of these countries are in sub-Saharan Africa. According to Africa Check, the top five causes of death in 2017 in Africa were lower respiratory tract infections, HIV/AIDS, diarrheal diseases, stroke and Ischemic heart disease. The major reasons for these causes of death are unsafe water, poor sanitation, insufficient hygiene, lack of resources and economic conditions. Living conditions dramatically affect life spans and are a major reason why these countries have the lowest life expectancy.

However, there has been a significant improvement in a lot of these countries and their life expectancy numbers. For example, Zimbabwe and Zambia’s longevity has increased by 38 percent since the year 2000. And, overall, of the 37 countries that have seen increases in their life expectancy numbers by more than 10 percent since 2000, 30 are in sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, not even one sub-Saharan country had its life expectancy fall between the years 2000-2014.

There is still a lot of progress that needs to be made in order for these countries with the lowest life expectancy to increase their numbers, but regardless, there has been a substantial improvement in these struggling countries.

– McCall Robison

Photo: Flickr

vision in developing countriesOver 90 percent of visually impaired people worldwide live in developing countries. Sightsavers partners with local entities to protect vision in developing countries from the Caribbean to Africa and Asia. The organization has treated over 200 million people for potentially blinding conditions.

To date, Sightsavers has facilitated seven million eye operations in 30 countries to prevent blindness. The organization has also trained almost 500,000 medical providers in eye care and has rehabilitated 91,000 visually impaired people.

Sightsavers specifically treats neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), cataracts and refractive errors that negatively affect vision in developing countries. The nongovernmental organization also advocates for disability-inclusive development.

Neglected Tropical Diseases

Over one billion people globally are impacted by neglected tropical diseases. Sightsavers targets five NTDs that affect eyesight – trachoma, river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, intestinal worms and schistosomiasis.

In 2016, the organization distributed almost 47 million treatments for river blindness. Further, it treated over 16.5 million people for intestinal worms and treated over 5.7 million people for schistosomiasis. Sightsavers aims to totally eliminate trachoma and lymphatic filariasis from its covered countries by 2020.

In 2016, Sightsavers and its partners distributed 154 million treatments for NTDs. Sightsavers facilitates initiatives that fight neglected tropical diseases in 29 developing countries.


Worldwide, 20 million people have lost vision due to cataracts. In some of the African countries covered by Sightsavers, 60 percent of cases of blindness are caused by cataracts.

Since the organization’s inception in 1950, Sightsavers has facilitated 6.6 million cataract surgeries. Furthermore, it has trained over 1,000 healthcare professionals to treat the condition. A child’s cataract surgery costs Sightsavers only $78.

Refractive Errors

Globally, 124 million people have untreated refractive errors like nearsightedness and astigmatism. Sightsavers has distributed almost three million pairs of eyeglasses in developing countries. Additionally, the organization trained 726 optometrists.

In 2016, Sightsavers’ School Health Integrated Programming (SHIP) initiative checked school-aged children in Cambodia, Ethiopia, Senegal and Ghana for poor eyesight. The program examined 57,400 children and provided 1,000 pairs of eyeglasses.


Worldwide, one billion people — 15 percent of the population — live with a disability. Eighty percent of disabled persons live in developing countries. In addition to protecting vision in developing countries through medical care, Sightsavers advocates for disability-inclusive development.

The organization’s “Put Us in The Picture” program has campaigned for incorporation of disabled persons in the development process since 2013. The initiative works to ensure that the needs of disabled residents of developing countries are considered in global development.

Sightsavers also advocates for equal access for disabled people to quality education and healthcare. The organization also works to ensure disabled people can find employment and participate in their political systems.

– Katherine Parks

Photo: Flickr

Healthcare programs often dismiss the importance of pediatric surgery in the developing world. Access to surgeons is treated as a superfluous medical resource rather than a necessity and therefore becomes extremely limited. The only pediatric surgeons in Kenya are located in Nairobi, making them difficult for most Kenyans to visit. In actuality, the demand for surgery among children in developing nations is strikingly high and the shortage of surgical care has extremely detrimental consequences.

In sub-Saharan health clinics, up to 11 percent of all child patients are in need of surgery. Of these children requiring surgery, nearly 90 percent are admitted with issues easily corrected by surgery such as congenital anomalies and injuries. Unfortunately, many children cannot obtain the surgical care they need. Even in urban communities with more convenient access to healthcare, approximately 217 out of 100,000 people die due to injuries, which could be corrected via surgery. By the age of 15, there is an 85 percent chance that children in Sub-Saharan Africa will experience a condition requiring surgery; without surgical attention, children can develop lifelong disabilities.

In impoverished countries that experience war and conflict, the chance of childhood injury is even higher. Children are often injured by stray bullets and explosives, and are even sometimes coerced into fighting. The Central African Republic experienced many child casualties during its most recent conflict (2012-2014), which put significant strain on its subpar healthcare system.

Even prior to the conflict, the Central African Republic had the sixth highest mortality rate of children under the age of five. Bangui Pediatric Hospital was overwhelmed by the influx of child patients during the war, but the U.N. supplied surgical kits and other medical supplies to temporarily rectify the void of surgical care.

Many other aid organizations are working to make pediatric surgical care more accessible in the developing world. The Global Pediatric Surgery Network has volunteer surgeons at work in various parts of the world, including Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Cambodia and Vietnam. The Pacific Association of Pediatric Surgeons teaches surgical skills to general practitioners in impoverished countries in order to create more permanent solutions to the inadequacy of pediatric surgery in the developing world.

The most common issues faced by volunteer pediatric surgeons in developing countries are financial constraints, inadequate healthcare facilities, insufficient infrastructure and geographically isolated populations. Fixing these problems is tantamount to improving surgical care for children in the developing world. Correcting surgical conditions in childhood increases a person’s quality of life, which strongly illustrates how surgery is such a necessary component of a complete healthcare system.

– Mary Efird

Photo: Flickr

App to Treat MalariaFor the people of Mozambique, malaria is a familiar and deadly part of life. As one of the world’s leading victims of the disease, Mozambique sees thousands of its citizens die as a result every year. Global initiatives have fought hard to treat and prevent malaria, including awareness campaigns and insecticide-treated nets. Since 2015, though, Mozambique has used an innovative resource: a smartphone app to treat malaria.

Mozambicans in rural areas often receive their health care from government-funded community health workers. These community health workers (agentes polivalente elementare, or APEs) are trained to diagnose and treat Mozambique’s most ubiquitous diseases, including malaria. Seeing a need to improve treatment, APEs in Mozambique have been provided with the CommCare app, created by the Malaria Consortium’s inSCALE research project and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The CommCare app allows APEs to better treat their patients through a number of means. It teaches better consultation methods through images and audio. It also creates better communication between APEs and their supervisors and functions, so medical records can be uploaded anywhere. App users in Mozambique have reported that it provides for clearer and more accurate treatment. New methods for recognizing and treating malaria are more easily transmitted to remote areas. The app to treat malaria has given community health workers better tools, communication and resources to assist in their vital work.

The entire population of Mozambique is at risk for malaria infection, typically spread by insects. The disease presents itself through flu-like symptoms and can be fatal if left untreated. Prior to 2010, there are no official figures for the number of deaths due to malaria. Since 2010, deaths to malaria have decreased and, in 2015, dipped to an all-time low.

On a morose but encouraging note, malarial confirmations have risen concurrently with the decreasing deaths. This suggests that malaria is being recognized, diagnosed and treated in Mozambique.  

Malaria is a relatively easy disease to treat. With early diagnosis, antimalarial medications can clear out the parasite and cure the patient. African countries are prone to malaria because of several factors: mosquitoes are rampant, medical clinics are scarce and preventative measures are often difficult to come by.

Because early diagnosis is so vital to a malaria victim’s odds of survival, Mozambique has taken steps to bridge the gap between rural areas and medical treatment. Aside from preventative measures, Mozambicans in remote areas rely on APEs to treat the country’s deadliest afflictions. The CommCare app gives APEs the resources to more accurately diagnose malaria and treat it appropriately.

Mozambique is seeing a positive trend in recent years. There are more diagnoses and fewer deaths. Eradication of the disease is still far off; however, using technology such as the CommCare app to treat malaria is guiding Mozambique in a positive direction. Countries around the world would be served well by adopting the same approach to the fight against malaria.

– Eric Paulsen

Photo: Flickr

Combatting Malaria Threat Important for Poverty AlleviationDespite the progress being made in improving global healthcare, malaria still remains a pressing concern. After HIV, it is becoming one of the most ubiquitous diseases in war-torn and impoverished countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The impacts of malaria can be especially debilitating for the poor. Even though the threat of malaria has decreased during the past 15 years, it still belongs to the group of 20 ‘’neglected tropical diseases’’.

Malaria is a disease caused by the Plasmodium parasite that is secreted by the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito. Anopheles mosquitos often lay their eggs in stagnant water, after which these eggs become adult mosquitos. The disease is prevalent in areas with poor sanitation and hygiene facilities, making it especially common and potentially dangerous in refugee camps.

The WHO estimated in 2015 that nearly half the world’s population is vulnerable to malaria, with a significant proportion concentrated mainly in sub-Saharan African countries. In 2015 alone, there were more than 222 million cases of malaria recorded, with a death toll of nearly 492,000. It was discovered that there is a link between climate change and the threat of malaria and other diseases. Global warming is resulting in an increase in global temperatures, which creates a more favorable environment for Anopheles mosquitos.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a renowned organization spearheading development funding and global health initiatives, has spoken about the U.S. budget cuts to foreign aid and healthcare. Achieving further progress in countering the malaria threat will be hindered by these cuts. Their analysis estimated that this decrease would lead to an additional 5 million deaths by 2030.

Fortunately, UNICEF noted that between 2000 and 2005, the malaria mortality rate has actually fallen by around 37 percent globally. Artemisinin-based therapies have been quite successful in reducing the harmful impacts of Plasmodium falciparum, one of the most deadly forms of malaria.

Many of the countries most affected by malaria are stepping up their efforts to combat the disease. Rwanda is treating the malaria threat with insecticide-treated nets, indoor residual spraying and the use of artemisinin-based drugs.

Nigeria alone accounts for nearly 25 percent of the malaria cases in Africa, which is one of the leading causes of premature death in the country. The Global Fund is working in Nigeria to treat the record levels of malaria cases and control the spread of the disease. WHO is also scaling up its operations in addressing the malaria threat in the country.

The recent malaria prevention drive in South Africa reaffirmed its support for alleviating the malaria threat in the country. The initiative is a collaborative agreement between South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique. The high incidence of diseases like HIV in South Africa often exacerbates the impact of malaria, making it particularly important to be addressed.

Working on preventive and mitigation efforts for malaria will go a long way towards addressing the rampant spread of the disease. The progress currently being made in reducing the malaria threat will yield successful results in the future.

Shivani Ekkanath
Photo: Flickr

Developing World's Babies Can Now Breathe Easier
In rural parts of the developing world, health care is iffy at best. If there is a healthcare facility, it often lacks trained employees and equipment. The equipment may even be outdated due to the expense to update it. And, too often, people traveling to a healthcare facility die in their travels.

This is the case seen in newborns when they are born in a rural village and must make the voyage to the nearest healthcare facility. It is very common for premature newborns to have difficulty breathing.

“Hospitals supply continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to keep the lungs ‘open’ as the baby breathes on its own. However, very premature babies who cannot breathe on their own require dual pressure treatment along with CPAP to provide both negative and positive pressure to the lungs at a normal breathing frequency.”

In first world countries, this is an easy fix because they are usually born at a hospital with the necessary equipment. However, this is not true in the rural parts of the developing world. Babies that need treatment for underdeveloped lungs do not have access to the dual pressure treatment system because the equipment is expensive, difficult to operate, or hard to upkeep.

According to the World Health Organization, the mortality rate of premature infants in underdeveloped countries can be up to eight times higher than in the U.S., due to lack of resources. But there is hope for the newborn babies of the developing world.

Stephen John and Joseph Barnett, two engineering students at Western Michigan University (WMU), invented the NeoVent. This device is an easy-to-operate dual-pressure system that is aimed at helping premature babies breathe.

“The NeoVent consists of an innovative oscillatory relief valve, and is driven by excess air generated by the CPAP machine. Air at a constant pressure is transported from the CPAP machines into the child’s airway via a tube. The tube is submerged into water to produce bubbles, which are caught in a small inverted bowl on the relief valve.”

As this tube fills bubbles, a positive pressure is applied to the infant’s lungs, bringing in air. And as the bubbles disperse, a negative pressure is applied to the infant’s lungs, pulling air out of the lungs. This is seen as a breathing motion on the infant’s chest.

By keeping the developing world in mind, John and Barnett have priced the machine at a mere $25. The engineering students plan to implement the NeoVent in limited resource facilities in Nepal, Kenya and Uganda.

John and Barnett received $3,500 as U.S. winners of the 2015 James Dyson Award. The students plan to use this money to start clinical trials and manufacture a second round of production level devices.

The NeoVent also won the Lemelson-MIT undergraduate “Cure It” competition and the Brian Thomas Entrepreneurial competition at Western Michigan University. In addition to these awards, NeoVent is also the recipient of a VentureWell E-teams grants and a research grant from WMU’s honors college.

NeoVent maybe not look like the expensive technology in state of the art hospitals, but it functions just the same. By creating an effective and affordable device, John and Barnett will be saving many premature infants’ lives in the developing world.

Kerri Szulak

Sources: Machine Design, WMU News
Photo: Flickr

The Backpack PLUS project was established in 2013 with the purpose of empowering community health workers (CHWs). These CHWs are the front-line workers of health delivery; they are often unpaid, volunteer workers that carry out the goals of a given health project.

When it comes to making a difference in global poverty, CHWs are absolutely vital. According to the Backpack PLUS research, a well-trained, well-deployed CHW can decrease child mortality of a community by 25 percent.

The purpose of Backpack PLUS is to “create a reference framework to gather the best practices, assess gaps and align partners to scale up existing and future CHW initiatives.” The project is more than just a tool kit for the workers; it is a system of solutions to real-world problems.

Backpack PLUS has two faces: physical and structural. The physical backpacks that CHWs receive contain key drugs, commodities, diagnostics and tools. The structural side of the program has to do with training, efficiency and thoroughness. This aspect of the program is deeply researched to maximize their results.

In 2013, the project launched into its design phase, where technical partners, policy makers, suppliers and other initiatives collaborated in search of a solution. Since 2013, the project has been focused on field research in Uganda and Senegal where they work to find the most efficient system for CHW aid relief.

The next phase of the project will be developing country plans, mobilizing resources and sharing tools, with a focus on collaboration between workers and between countries.

As of now, Backpack PLUS has partnered with UNICEF, MDG Health Alliance, Save the Children, PSI, the One Million CHW Campaign and Frog Design. This project aims to attack global poverty by empowering workers.

This project is large scale. The purpose is widespread, systematic change that will have a huge impact. Undeniably, the current health delivery system is fragmented, which is why Backpack PLUS’s goal is to unify the process.

Hannah Resnick

Sources: Backpack PLUS, One Million CHW Campaign, UNICEF, UNICEF
Photo: Frog Design

Health Policy
A recent report, “Women and Health: the key for sustainable development,” emphasizes why gender-sensitive health policy is important. Gender-sensitive health policy answers the call to value women, compensate women, count women and be accountable to women.

In the past, women have been excluded from educational and economic opportunities, and this has contributed to the lack of development in many countries, as well as gender inequitable societies.

Oportunidades, a cash-transfer program in Mexico is an example of the kind of work that gender-sensitive health policy supports. Money is provided to families who ensure that their children attend school and maintain the health of their families. The project compensates for the obstacles that girls have traditionally faced in attending school (boys favored over girls) by providing larger benefits to families for specifically allowing their girls to attend school.

It is critical that the environment in which these types of policies are enacted is enabling. Women should be able to fulfill leadership roles in the development of these types of policies to ensure that their voices are heard.

When women secure leadership roles in family life, in addition to political efforts, they are more likely to make decisions that will benefit their communities.

For example, in the Philippines, the money that women provide for their families has helped to increase the consumption of protein and calories to avoid malnutrition.

Gender-responsive programs can be implemented in the agricultural sector. In Burkina Faso, plots owned by women are 30 percent smaller than men’s because they do not have access to the labor and fertilizer that men rely on. Programs that offered avenues for women to access labor and fertilizer for their land would minimize this disparity.

The Women and Health report’s significant conclusion states that gender-responsive policy can “accelerate sustainable development”. Women are valuable assets to their community. When this is recognized and addressed in policy, there is massive potential for a reduction in poverty and increased quality of life.

-Iliana Lang

Sources: The Lancet
Photo: Flickr

First Report on Global Healthcare Shows Long Way off from Reaching Goal
On June 12 the World Health Organization and the World Bank Group announced the first monitoring report for tracking global healthcare coverage. This is the first report in what is to become an annual report with the goal of helping to eliminate health concerns that affect poverty rates. As the UN moves towards the new Sustainable Development Goals, these reports will help assess the success or any failures in reaching the new goals set for 2030. The report looks at the coverage of healthcare services as well as the effects of the costs on people.

The report found that 400 million people did not have access to one or more of the essential healthcare services. In short, the most disadvantaged are the ones missing out the most. WHO lists 100 items as core health indicators. Some of these include life expectancy, vaccine-preventable deaths, malnutrition, alcohol abuse, family planning, mental health and clean water. In addition, part of the list is how well services are provided and how accessible they are.

The other aspect of monitoring is the cost of global healthcare. In low and middle-income countries, paying for services pushes 17 percent of people into or further into poverty. If people are pushed into poverty because of health issues, it will be difficult to solve the issue of world poverty. By addressing the issue of financing and efficiency of health services, there is hope to reverse the trend and begin to raise people out of poverty and still provide accessible, affordable health services.

Despite what appears to be a gloomy outlook on world health coverage, there are positives. Research shows that more people have access to better healthcare than ever before. This is a trend that the UN, WHO, World Bank Group and many others are proud of and hope to continue with renewed efforts to deliver affordable healthcare to all people.

– Katherine Hewitt

Sources: Rockefeller Foundation, World Health Organization 1, World Health Organization 2
Photo: Post

Oral-Health-Care-in-Poor-CountriesOral health care is an indicator of a body’s overall health, but for many of the world’s poor, oral health care is one of the most neglected areas of medical care available. Thankfully though, in some regions, oral health care is improving.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that “worldwide, 60-90 percent of school children and nearly 100 percent of adults have dental cavities.” Oral health care also includes, in part, gum care, mouth pain, oral infections and tooth loss.

What is even worse, is that “oral disease in children and adults is higher among poor and disadvantaged population groups” (WHO).

In parts of the world, access to dental care can be completely lacking. The American Dental Association (ADA) has given a warning for U.S. travelers: “If you are planning a trip out of the country it may be helpful to schedule a dental checkup before you leave, especially if you’ll be traveling in developing countries or remote areas without access to good dental care.”

Such a warning for U. S. citizens shows a need for better universal access to oral health professionals in developing countries. This is especially true for those living in poverty.

There are two studies in particular that highlight the connection between poverty and poor dental health. One comes from an Argentinian study that looked at parental income and education, as well as access to oral health care. The study found that there is a direct correlation between higher dental care and higher poverty indicators.

In another study, WHO reports that in Mexico, 60-70 percent of elderly people have few to no teeth. The report also finds that upwards to 90 percent of Mexicans have untreated cavities. As with the Argentinian study, the higher the poverty the worse oral care was. Their findings are similar to those in poverty all around the world.

What can be done? The situation seems dire and difficult.

One of the best ways to help fight cavities, and other noncommunicable oral diseases, is to promote proper dental care. Schools in the Philippines have made hand washing and tooth brushing part of their everyday curriculum. Dental care has been a consistent reason for children to miss school, but UNICEF has found that for the school children, “tooth-brushing can result in reductions of up to 27 per cent in absenteeism.”

The WHO Global Oral Health Programme is also working to reduce diseases caused by poor oral health care. The focus is not only on proper tooth brushing but also on proper diet, the reduction of tobacco and excessive alcohol use. All areas need to be looked at to help prevent tooth loss, gum disease and some forms of oral cancers.

Much still needs to be done to help maintain proper oral health, especially for those people living in poverty. Access to proper dental care when cavities or oral infections do occur is still lacking.

Thankfully there are programs in place that are thriving, such as the ones in the Philippine schools that are proving to be successful. Hopefully, their model will be used in other regions so that oral health care will improve the world over.

– Megan Ivy

Sources: Mouth Healthy, National Center for Biotechnology Information, UNICEF, WHO 1, WHO 2, WHO 3
Photo: Projects Abroad