THE AVERAGE life expectancy in Latin America and the Caribbean rose from 29 years in 1900 to 74 years in 2010, according to the 2012 edition of Health in the Americas, published by the Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO).
The report also stated that today, 98 per cent of children live to see their first birthday, while 100 years ago, only 75 per cent did.
Presented at the 28th Pan American Sanitary Conference in Washington, DC, recently, the report describes the progress made by the countries of the Americas and the challenges they face as they work to improve health in the region.
Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson led Jamaica's delegation to the conference.
In presenting the report at the conference, Director of PAHO, Dr Mirta Roses, said countries of the region have been collectively successful in making this part of the world healthier and more prosperous.
"However, after reviewing the most recent developments in population health and its determinants in the Americas, we have to get to work urgently and energetically to make this region a more equitable and sustainable home for all of its current and future inhabitants," she said.
Life expectancy at birth in North America in 1900 was 48 years, while life expectancy in Latin America and the Caribbean was 29 years. In 2010, those figures were 78 and 74 years, respectively, the report noted.
The PAHO director said differences among countries of the region persist. For example, life expectancy in 2010 was 79.2 in Chile, but only 66.8 in Bolivia, a difference of 12.4 years. These differences are also seen within countries. In Colombia, mortality in children under five in 2010 was 11.3 times greater in the poorest quintile than in the wealthiest.
Major demographic trends in the Americas include population growth, urbanisation, and population ageing. In 1900, the population of the Americas was 194 million people; 110 years later, it has risen to over 940 million. It is estimated that by 2020 it will rise to slightly more than one billion inhabitants, representing 13.4 per cent of the global population.
Dr Roses pointed out that infant mortality also fell significantly in the last 110 years. One of every four children born in 1900 in Latin America and the Caribbean died before reaching his or her first birthday. Today, 98 per cent survive their first year and have a high probability of reaching old age.
The report also stated that in 2006, there were nearly 100 million people over 60 years in the region. By 2020, this figure is expected to double, with more than half of these people living in Latin America and the Caribbean. A projected 69 per cent of all those born in North America and 50 per cent of those born in Latin America and the Caribbean will live beyond the age of 80, the report added.