Tanzanians live longer despite health challenges: study

Monday September 18 2017

Seattle, Washington. Life expectancy is growing in Tanzania but the country continues to struggle with communicable diseases like HIV and diarrhoea, as well as neonatal ailments that kill infants, a new study has revealed.

Globally, countries have saved more lives over the past decade, especially among children under age 5, but persistent health problems, such as obesity, conflict, and mental illness, comprise a “triad of troubles,” and prevent people from living long, healthy lives, according to a new scientific study.

“Tanzanians are living longer but communicable diseases like HIV, lower respiratory infection, and diarrhoea are still killing too many people. Children are at particular risk, and neonatal ailments like sepsis, pre-term birth, and encephalopathy kill thousands of infants. We have a lot of work to do,” said Prof Charles Shey Wiysonge of Cochrane South Africa, a co-author of the study.

This year’s version of the annual Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) is composed of five peer-reviewed papers, and was published today in the international medical journal The Lancet. The five papers provide in-depth analyses of life expectancy and mortality, causes of death, overall disease burden, years lived with disability, and risk factors that lead to health loss.

The study’s main findings for Tanzania include that a Tanzanian man born in 2016 can expect to live 62.6 years, an increase in life expectancy of 7.3 years over the past decade. A woman has a life expectancy of 66.1 years, up 9.4 years from 2006.

However, illness and injuries take away years of healthy life so much that a Tanzanian man born in 2016 will live approximately 55.3 years in good health; a woman only 57.8 years. According to the study, the top five causes of premature death in Tanzania are HIV, lower respiratory infection, diarrheal diseases, malaria, and neonatal encephalopathy. The ailments that cause illness can be very different. Iron-deficiency anaemia, back pain, and depression are the top causes of years that people live with disability in Tanzania.


Deaths of children under 5 are a persistent health challenge. For every 1,000 live births, 55.7 Tanzanian children under the age of 5 die. That far exceeds the global figure of 38.4, and it is higher than in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Rwanda.

Moreover, in 2016, for the first time in modern history, fewer than 5 million children under age 5 died in one year worldwide as compared to 1990 when 11 million died.

Researchers attribute this global health landmark to improvements in increased educational levels of mothers, rising per capita incomes, declining levels of fertility, increased vaccination programs, mass distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets, improved water and sanitation, and a wide array of other health programs funded by development funding for health.

“Death is a powerful motivator, both for individuals and for countries, to address diseases that have been killing us at high rates,” said Dr Christopher Murray, Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. “But, we’re been much less motivated to address issues leading to illnesses. A ‘triad of troubles’ – obesity, conflict, and mental illness, including substance use disorders – poses a stubborn and persistent barrier to active and vigorous lifestyles.” (Agencies)