Healthy trends

The world health statistics report released by the World Health Organisation has presented a better picture of the health of people, especially in poor countries, in the last many years.

The health status of people is best measured in the long term because it takes time to fight the reasons for poor health and to improve the status.

So, the report has compared the present conditions with those in 1990. It has found good progress in five important parameters, including longevity of life, child mortality, nutritional standards, sanitation and the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Life expectancy has improved by about six years and some of the poorest countries have made the fastest progress, registering a high 20 years in one country, Liberia.

India has also gained. Fewer children are dying before the age of five, and there is better access to nutrition and sanitation.

While these are general indicators of a better health scenario, remarkable progress has been made in a specific area of checking the spread of HIV.

The WHO had declared it as a major threat and led a campaign against it with steps for prevention and treatment.

The anti-retroviral therapy, which is the only known treatment method, has found much success with increased coverage of low and middle income countries.

It involves the use of a combination of at least three drugs to suppress the virus and stop the progression of the disease.

Infections have fallen by a third from about 3.5 million over a decade ago, and fewer people are dying of AIDS-related ailments now.

The WHO estimates that about 5.5 million deaths may have been averted since 1995 as a result of the anti-AIDS campaign and the measures adopted to fight the disease.

India, which has the third largest population of people with HIV/AIDS, has cut new infections by about 57 per cent.

The fight against HIV is one of the few areas where the country may meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

The performance of countries in different parts of the world is naturally uneven.

It depends on the availability of funds, the will of governments and their priorities and strategies, social attitudes and the state of the health infrastructure and delivery mechanisms.

But it gives hope that steady and substantial progress is being made over the world in addressing some basic issues of public health.

But there is much more to be done, as an earlier report on sanitation in India showed.

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