Wednesday, 15 August 2007

First world / third world

According to a report described in The Guardian, the USA has plummetted down the ranking of countries by life expectancy:
Despite being one of the richest countries in the world, America has dropped from 11th to 42nd place in 20 years, according to official US figures. (1)
I don't actually care much. Part of the problem is de to bad choices made by Americans, like eating too much rubbish and not geting any exercise. Part of it is other countries surpassing the USA. Part of it is due to the dismal health system in the States, where 45 million - about 155 of the population - have no health insurance what-so-ever (2).

But, like I said, I don't feel motivated to care too much about whether people in the USA live longer than people in Singapore (they don't, in case you care (3)). What made me feel queasy was the last paragraph of the Guardian article:
The worst life expectancy figures are in Africa, with Swaziland at the bottom, at 34.1 years. (4)
So, if I were an average person in Swaziland, I'd have less than a year to live. And since this is an average figure, the stuation is more likely to be skewed, with some people living longer and some dying earlier, the likelihood is that I'd already be dead. Except I'm white, which would mean I'm just 3% of the population, and I'm willing to bet that 3% has a better life expectancy than the other 97%.

Some other facts about Swaziland, courtesy of Wikipedia (5):
  • in 2003, it was estimated that only 3.5% of the population were aged over 65. 41.4% of the population was under 14 years old, and the median age of the country was only 18.5 years. With so many people dying young, who is caring for all the children?
  • In 2006, the popualtion growth rate was estimated at -0.23%. So it isn't a growth rate at all.
  • The estimated infant mortality rate in 2003 was estimated at 67.44 deaths/1,000 live births. That's high enough to be made into a meaningful percentage: 6.7% of all children die very shortly after they are born.
  • Almost exactly a third of all adults are HIV positive.
We can put men on the moon and we're planning a manned expedition to Mars. But we can't get the average person in Swaziland reach his or her thirty-fourth birthday.
1 - "US tumbles down the world ratings list for life expectancy," by Ewen MacAskill and agencies, in The Guardian, 13th of August, 2007. (,,2147617,00.html)
2 - ibid.
3 - ibid.
4 - ibid.
5 - "Demographics of Swaziland," Wikipedia article, viewed 15th of August, 2007. ( According to the report cited by the Guardian, the infant mortality rate in the USA is 6.8 / per 1,000. That is very high for a developed country, but it is still almost exactly a tenth of the rate in Swaziland.

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