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Extending Human Life Expectancy

(FILE) A nurse prepares a dose of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine.
(FILE) A nurse prepares a dose of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine.

In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, life expectancy fell by two years.

Extending Human Life Expectancy
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Human life expectancy has more than doubled during the past century, from about 35 years to well over 70 years - largely thanks to numerous scientific advances. But at a recent talk at the Center for Global Development in Washington, USAID Administrator Samantha Power warned that in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, life expectancy fell by two years:

“COVID didn’t just attack individual immune systems; it attacked our societal immune system - weakening health systems around the world and making it unlikely that we will simply recover our upward march once the pandemic is over.”

To eliminate the underlying challenges that are straining healthcare systems around the world, Administrator Power said, “we must build resilience by uniting in pursuit of three foundational goals.”

“First, we must finish the fight against the disease that caused the downturn in life expectancy in the first place - by turning COVID into a manageable illness everywhere.”

Second, Administrator Power said, we need to bolster global health security defenses against new outbreaks and future pandemic threats because “the same risk factors that caused COVID to spread across the planet remain very much with us.”

And finally, she noted, we need to “rebuild the resilience of our health systems by investing in the people who form the backbone of these systems: our always essential primary health workers.”

This means transitioning from the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 to routine care, and increasing global capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to all infectious disease outbreaks.

And, said Administrator Power, we must invest in primary medical care professionals. “Today, Africa has a quarter of the world's burden of illness, but just four percent of its health workers.”

“Many of these workers are significantly underpaid, or not paid at all – a common phenomenon when a profession is dominated, as primary health care is, by women,” she said. “A recent report found that in total, six million women in the global health workforce are either grossly underpaid, or not paid at all. Six million!”

“A century ago,” said Administrator Power, “it would have been almost impossible to imagine that the next century would bring about the global health miracle of doubling life expectancy … Today, we … can use the lessons of the pandemic to build up not just individual immunity, but our societal immunity – so that this remarkable story of progress does not end with us, but builds for future generations to come.”