Life shorter in the tropics

Nov 19, 2012: - A world-wide initiative to define the challenges facing the peoples of the tropics was launched today by 13 leading research institutions across 12 countries.

The group, including James Cook University, has released an early insight of its planned State of the Tropics Report with details of life expectancy which is lower in the region than in the rest of the world.

The full report to be published next year will shine a light on the critical importance of the people and issues of the tropical world, and contribute to efforts to improve the lives of the peoples of the Tropics and their environment.

The 13 institutions involved are:

James Cook University, Australia;

University of Nairobi, Kenya;

Escuela Superior Politiécnica del Litorial, Ecuador;

Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, England;

Mahidol University, Thailand;

Singapore’s National University and the Nanyang Technological University;

Organisation for Tropical Studies, Costa Rican hub;

University of Copenhagen, Denmark;

University of Hawaii – Manoa – USA;

University of Papua New Guinea;

University of the South Pacific, Fiji; and,

Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, Brazil.

Professor George Magoha, Vice Chancellor of the University of Nairobi, today issued “Life Expectancy”, the first of four early insights ahead of the State of the Tropics Report.

“We have published today the facts and figures relating to life expectancy in the Tropics which show significant improvements over the past 60 years. But there is still a substantial gap between the Tropics and the rest of the world,” he said.

The insight reveals that life expectancy in the Tropics has increased by 22.8 years to 64.4 years between 1950 and 2010 and the gap between the life expectancy of women and men has widened in favor of women over the same period.

Infant mortality in the tropics fell from 161 deaths per 1000 live births to 58 over the same period. However in the rest of the world it is 33 and the rate of improvement has been greater.

As a general rule, regions that have experienced large falls in the absolute infant mortality rate also report large improvements in life expectancy.

Professor Sandra Harding, the Vice Chancellor of Australia’s James Cook University which initiated the State of the Tropics project, said that Australia was the developed country with the largest tropical landmass.

“In tropical Australia life expectancy is 79.4 years compared with the rest of Australia at 82 years and 64.4 years for the tropics generally,” Professor Harding said.

Professor Harding said that over the past half-century the tropics has emerged as an increasingly critical region. More than 40% of the world’s population now lives in the Tropics and this is likely to be close to 50% by 2050. The region generates around 20% of global economic output and is home to some 80% of the world’s biodiversity.

“However, the resources to sustain larger populations and economic growth are imposing ever-increasing pressures,” she said.

Issues of concern include relatively poor health outcomes, with more than one billion people suffering from tropical diseases, unacceptable levels of infant mortality and reduced life expectancy; extreme poverty; poor educational outcomes; environmental degradation; and, in some cases, political and economic instability.

“The key objective of the State of the Tropics project is to enable a better understanding of the tropical world, the key challenges of the region as well as the opportunities it provides,” Professor Harding said.

“In Australia, we do have scientific assets, businesses, and population in the tropics that can speak to the challenges and opportunities of the tropics.

“The idea of the tropics has geopolitical, economic and strategic importance - and this importance will be plain as a result of the full State of the Tropics report. Sooner or later, we will have to take this seriously,” Professor Harding said.

It is intended that the State of the Tropics Report will be published every five years with an annual State of the Tropics paper focusing on a key issue.

[The paper on Life Expectancy in the Tropics can be found at www.stateofthetropics.org]

Issued: November 19, 2012

JCU Media: Jim O’Brien 07 4781 4822 or 0418 892449