A dramatic fall in life expectancy in southern Africa caused by AIDS in the 1990s appears to have bottomed out, with new treatments bringing a slight rise in recent years, a U.N. report said on Wednesday.

The UN report attributes the uptick in southern Africa to the development and improved availability of HIV treatments
But the region remains the only one in the world where life expectancy is currently less than it was in the early 1990s – and in the case of women, much less, the report said.

Women form the majority of HIV-positive adults in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in North Africa and the Middle East, said the report, “The World’s Women 2010.” The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes AIDS.

In the period 1990-95, life expectancy at birth in southern Africa – South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho – was 64 for women and 59 for men. That fell to 51 for women and 49 for men in 2000-05, but rose slightly in 2005-10 to 52 for women and 51 for men.

In Eastern, Central and Western Africa, where some countries were also hard-hit by AIDS, life expectancy increased slowly but steadily over the same period and now stands at 57 for women and 54 for men.

The report by the U.N. department of economic and social affairs attributed the modest uptick in southern Africa to the development and improved availability of medical treatments for HIV.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region worst affected by HIV, accounting for some two thirds of all people living with the virus worldwide. But a U.N. report last month said new infections fell by more than a quarter in 22 countries between 2001 and 2009.

In South Africa, at least 5.7 million people out of a population of 50 million are infected with HIV and an estimated 1,000 people die each day due to AIDS-related complications.

But the country now has the world’s largest program to treat the disease with anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), which can prolong the life of those suffering from the incurable illness. Former President Thabo Mbeki was criticized for questioning accepted AIDS science and not making ARVs widely available.

The latest U.N. report found that women live longer than men in all regions of the world, typically by about five years, but are more likely than men to die from cardiovascular diseases, especially in Europe.

The longest-lived women are to be found in Japan, with an average life expectancy of 86, and the longest-lived men in Iceland, where the figure is 80. At the other end of the scale, life expectancy in Afghanistan and Zimbabwe is below 45 for both men and women.

The report said there had been a “noticeable recovery” in longevity in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, where life expectancy plummeted following the collapse of communist rule in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Men in particular are living longer due to reductions in heart disease deaths.


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