Life Expectancy Rises As Infant Mortality Drops In The Americas, PAHO Says

September 21, 1998

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 1998--Life expectancy for people in Latin America and the Caribbean has expanded significantly over the last decade and a half, largely due to declines in infant and childhood deaths throughout the region, the Pan American Health Organization reports.

Throughout the Western Hemisphere, infant mortality has fallen to 27 per 1,000 live births, according to PAHO's new report "Health in the Americas, " released today. In Latin America and the Caribbean the infant mortality rate has declined dramatically to 35 per 1,000 live births from 59 per 1,000 in the early 1980s. Bolivia and Haiti have more than halved their infant mortality rates since the 1950s. Infant mortality is defined as deaths among children under 1 year of age.

Life expectancy in Latin America and the Caribbean rose from 68.7 to 71.1 years as premature death in the region declined, primarily because of reductions in deaths during early childhood. The average life expectancy in the Hemisphere overall is about 75 years.

The report warns, however, that the extent and speed of these improvements were not equal for all countries or for all groups within individual countries. "Inequities persisted and, in some cases, grew," it says.

The decline in mortality occurred despite an increase in population, and a rise in the number of deaths. Some 800 million people -- nearly 14 percent of the world's population -- live in the Americas, about a third of them in the United States and another third in Brazil and Mexico. The current birth rate is about 19 live births per 1,000 people, PAHO says. The United Nations predicts that more than 15 million babies will be born in the Americas this year, and that that number will remain steady for the next five years.

Because of their large populations, the United States, Brazil and Mexico also lead the region in deaths. North America leads in mortality, with a rate of 8.7 per 1,000 people, while Costa Rica's rate is the lowest in the region at 3.8 per 1,000, according to the report.

PAHO points out that trends in birth and death give an incomplete picture of population growth in the Americas; immigration and rural-to-urban migration also change the demographics. In most sub-regions, the rural population is shrinking or holding steady; only in Central America are rural areas experiencing significant population growth.

Governments in the Americas will have to make adjustments to accommodate the growing population and demographic changes, as they continue to undergo economic transformation from state-run to open economic systems, PAHO says.
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The Pan American Health Organization is an international public health agency whose mission is to promote good health and improve sanitary living conditions among the people of the Western Hemisphere, targeting the most vulnerable groups including mothers and children, workers, the poor, the elderly, and refugees and displaced persons. PAHO is composed of 38 member governments and serves as the regional representative of the World Health Organization.

For Further Information Contact:
Daniel Epstein, tel (202) 974-3459, fax (202) 974-3143, Office of Public Information, PAHO.
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Pan American Health Organization

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