Islamabad - People in Pakistan are living longer but both life expectancy and healthy life expectancy have increased more slowly than in most countries of the world, and a complex mix of fatal and non-fatal ailments cause a tremendous amount of health loss, according to a new analysis of 306 diseases and injuries in 188 countries.

In Pakistan, gains in life expectancy and healthy life expectancy are almost equal, but significantly lower than global averages. Globally, people gained 6.2 years of life expectancy between 1990 and 2013 and 5.4 years of healthy life. But in Pakistan, life expectancy increased by only 3.4 years and health life expectancy increased by 3.3 years.

There are also significant gender differences with Pakistani women outpacing men in terms of health gains. Life expectancy increased by 4.7 years for women and 2.2 years for men and women gained 4.3 years of healthy life expectancy while men gained only 2.4 years.

Life expectancy for women in Pakistan still outpaces that of men, 67.3 years as compared to 64.4 years.

“Global, regional, and national disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) for 306 diseases and injuries and healthy life expectancy (HALE) for 188 countries, 1990-2013: quantifying the epidemiological transition,” is the first study to examine fatal and non-fatal health loss across countries. The study has been conducted by an international consortium of researchers working on the Global Burden of Disease study and led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

For most countries, changes in healthy life expectancy for males and females between 1990 and 2013 were significant and positive, but in dozens of countries, including Botswana, Belize, and Syria, healthy life expectancy in 2013 was not significantly higher than in 1990, it says.

“It’s encouraging to see life expectancy for people in Pakistan steadily climbing,” said Dr Anwar Rafay, a Medical Specialist and Assistant Professor in Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Contech School of Public Health and a co-author of the study. “But healthy life expectancy needs to keep pace if we are going to live both long and healthy lives”.

“In Pakistan, the leading causes of health loss, as measured by DALYs, in 2013 were lower respiratory infections, neonatal encephalopathy, diarrheal diseases, ischemic heart disease, neonatal preterm birth complications, neonatal sepsis, stroke, meningitis, road injuries, and congenital abnormalities. Some of these conditions, including lung cancer and Alzheimer’s disease were not among the leading causes of health loss globally,” it says.

The study also examines the role that socio-demographic status – a combination of per capita income, population age, fertility rates, and average years of schooling – plays in determining health loss. Researchers’ findings underscore that this accounts for more than half of the differences seen across countries and over time for certain leading causes of DALYs, including maternal and neonatal disorders. But the study notes that socio-demographic status is much less responsible for the variation seen for ailments including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. “Factors including income and education have an important impact on health but don’t tell the full story,” said IHME Director Dr Christopher Murray.

“Looking at healthy life expectancy and health loss at the country level can help guide policies to ensure that people everywhere can have long and healthy lives no matter where they live,” he added.