Life expectancy in Syria fell by six years in the first three years of the civil war, according to a study showing that the health of populations in many countries that experienced uprisings or conflict during the Arab spring has suffered serious effects.
Between 2010 and 2013, average life expectancy dropped by approximately three months in Yemen, Tunisia and Egypt, according to research published in the Lancet global health journal. Libya experienced a steep drop in life expectancy after the 2011 uprising that deposed Muammar Gaddafi, but it rose after the initial conflict ended.
Worst affected was Syria, where men and women were expected to live to 75 and 80 respectively in 2010, but 69 and 75 by 2013. Infant deaths in the country rose by 9.1% over the same period, in stark contrast to the average 6% yearly decline in the decade to 2010, according to the study.
Ali Mokdad, professor of global health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, Seattle, who led the research, said the situation was likely to have worsened since.
“The sad part is that we stop at 2013 and we know that the war has been raging in Syria [since], and there’s a war in Yemen and war in Libya right now as well,” he said. “People are dying from killing and bombing, but they’re also dying because they’re unable to get their blood pressure medicine, not able to get to hospital. Kids are not eating properly, getting anaemia – we need to stop this madness.”
The study authors warn that hard-won gains that have led to life expectancy in the eastern Mediterranean region as a whole increasing from 65 in 1990 to 71 in 2013 are under threat. In the same period, life expectancy in Libya, Syria and Yemen rose steadily by about three months per year.
Mokdad said the situation had been aggravated by a brain drain of doctors, who were often among the first to leave when conflict broke out even though their skills would be vital during war and beyond.
The report, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, warns that on top of the direct threat posed by conflict, millions of people in countries where uprisings took place in 2010 are faced with dire water shortages and poor sanitation, which can lead to outbreaks of disease. Frequent attacks on vaccination teams have slowed immunisation campaigns, and polio has again become a major concern – especially in refugee camps – at a time when the region was close to eradicating it.
Mokdad said: “We need a road map for building health infrastructure in these countries. All we do in immunisation is based on electricity for the fridges to keep medicines in, everything is based on roads, everything is based on safety, so drivers can deliver. All countries need to come together to fix this.”
Just under two years ago, the UN estimated that the death toll in Syria from the conflict was 250,000. But in February, the Syrian Centre for Policy Research said 470,000 people had died – about 400,000 directly owing to violence and 70,000 because of a lack of adequate health services.
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