Near-universal progress in health over the past decade, with all but 12 countries, including the United States, seeing an improvement, has contributed to the rise in global prosperity.
Expansions in immunisation programmes for diphtheria, measles, and hepatitis have resulted in a greater percentage of the global population being inoculated against these life-threatening diseases. This, together with antenatal care now covering over 90% of women across the globe, has led to the improvement seen in preventative interventions. In India (101st), for example, which saw a 41 rank rise in this health element, only 29% of the population were vaccinated against hepatitis in 2010, but this increased to 89% in 2020, and those inoculated against diphtheria also increased to 89%, up from 70% in 2010.
Global health also improved as a result of the number of healthcare practitioners increasing, with more births being attended by a healthcare professional than a decade previously, and the treatment for tuberculosis being expanded. It is not surprising that as a result of preventative interventions and care systems improving, we also see global mortality rates decreasing across all the key stages of life, and life expectancy at age 60 increasing. However, these improvements are now under threat as the health of many nations around the globe has been under considerable strain due to the pandemic.
A particular concern at the start of the year was how nations with less advanced healthcare systems would cope with the virus. However, we now know that the virus disproportionately affects the elderly and those with comorbidities. This demographic make-up is more commonly found in more developed countries — the median age in Italy is 47.3, whereas the median age across Africa is around 20, and the obesity rate in the United States stands at over 40%, compared to less than 10% in Africa - so it is generally the health systems of more developed nations that have been in greater danger of being overwhelmed.
The increase in global prosperity is also the result of better education, which improved as a result of better access: enrolment rates increased at each stage of the education system, with children starting education earlier and finishing later. Tertiary education, in particular, saw a big improvement in enrolment rates. In 2010, 31% of the global adult population enrolled in a higher educationcourse, but this had increased to 42% by 2020. The improvements in education have paid dividends, with the adult population becoming more skilled than a decade previously. Globally, over 85% of adults are now literate, four percentage points higher than in 2010.
Over the past decade, 150 countries have improved their education. We must now take care to ensure that these hard-fought-for gains are protected. The choices that are made by governments at this time will determine the future social wellbeing and economic prospects of a generation. One American study cites that today’s students in the U.S. can expect at least 3% lower lifetime earnings, as a result of the lower skill levels they will achieve. In addition, school closures are estimated to result in a 1.5% loss in the nation’s future GDP. This is equivalent to a total economic loss of $14.2 trillion in current dollars over the next 80 years. As many countries around the world head into yet further restrictions, prioritising keeping schools open safely is a must, to ensure today’s pupils are not further disadvantaged by this pandemic.
Living conditions have improved in all regions across the globe, which also contributed to the rise in prosperity. In particular, reductions in poverty across all measures, greater access to water and sanitation services, together with increased digital connectedness, have all contributed to the global improvement. Since 2010, 152 countries have improved the living conditions of their citizens, with four of the top five most improved countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Vietnam (73rd) improved the most, with poverty rates significantly reducing. For example, the percentage of the population that live on less than $3.20 a day has fallen from almost 50% a decade ago to less than 10% now, and the percentage that survive on less than $5.50 has reduced from nearly 80% of the population to less than 25%.
Despite this overall global improvement, 15 countries have seen a deterioration in living conditions, and it has been estimated that the pandemic could result in poverty rates increasing by as much as 10%, potentially setting back the hard-fought-for reductions by 20 years. If governments do not take the necessary steps to protect prosperity in their nation, then this is likely to be further exacerbated — decision makers need to remain mindful of what builds prosperity even in these difficult days.