9 Apr 2006
The ‘World Health Report 2006’ released Friday April 7 by the WHO indicates that 10 countries with the lowest life expectancy are in Africa. Of these countries, Zimbabwe occupies an unenviable position with average life expectancy for women at 34 and that for men at 37. These figures were calculated based on statistics for 2004. Since the 2005 report that was based on figures of 2003 statistics, the life expectancy for both sexes has dropped by 2 years.
Carla Abou-Zahr of WHO’s Health Metrics Network attributed the decrease in lifespan to the high HIV/AIDS prevalence. Some NGOs and especially detractors of the Zimbabwean president (Robert Mugabe) say the decrease is linked to the economic crisis of the poorly managed country. This decrease came despite a fall in HIV prevalence from 24.6% in 2003 to 20.1% in 2005. Zimbabwe has a population of 12.75million people.
Swaziland, one of Zimbawe’s Southern African neighbours has the lowest life expectancy for men (36 years). That for the women is 39 years.
The World Health Organization had set a target for Zimbabwe to provide anti-AIDS drugs to 120,000 people in 2005. Zimbabwe failed to meet that target mostly due to funding problems and inadequate manpower. The economy of the country reportedly contracted by about 40% in the last seven years. The trend may not reverse anytime soon as the 82-year old president Mugabe comes increasingly under isolation. He is confronting a vibrant opposition at home and wading off (diplomatic/economic) attacks from abroad spearheaded by Britain and the U.S. Occasionally other problems like drought and crop failure come to compound his already complicated problems. Zimbabwe is a country that people have learnt to ‘co-habitate’ with hunger, disease and poverty.
About two decades ago Zimbabwe had a high standard of living compared to other African countries. That was when Mugabe’s relationship with the minority whites had not broken down. The white minority that severed relationship with their home country (Britain) ruled Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) from 1965. A liberation war waged against them by Mugabe and the late Joshua Nkomo forced the ‘illegal’ regime to come to the negotiating table under British guidance. Mugabe emerged as prime minister of independent Zimbabwe in 1980. At the time of independence, the whites constituted only 3% of the population but possessed most of the agricultural land. The struggle over land ownership has played a major role in the economic downturn of the country. Critics charge that Mugabe has managed land redistribution and compensation poorly. The net effect is that the agricultural sector (main economic activity) has suffered as some frustrated whites have migrated with their skills and capital.
It is difficult to imagine that we are in the same world when people in Japan have a life expectancy of 82 years while Zimbabweans are not expected to live past their 40th birthday.
Njei Moses Timah