The 2010 Arab uprising and more recent Mideast wars have harmed health and shortened life expectancy in many countries across the eastern Mediterranean, a new study shows.
Researchers warn that strife in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, in particular, could reverse two decades of health gains and affect the region for years to come.
They found that between 2010 and 2013, life expectancy fell six years in Syria and by roughly three months in Yemen, Tunisia and Egypt.
“Life expectancy decline is traditionally regarded as a sign that the health and social systems are failing,” said study leader Ali Mokdad, a professor of global health at the University of Washington.
“The fact that this is happening in several countries indicates there is an immediate need to invest in health care systems,” Mokdad said.
In Syria, average life expectancy for men declined from 75 years in 2010 to 69 years in 2013. For women in Syria, average life expectancy dropped from about 80 years to 75, according to the study.
Also in Syria, infant death rates rose about 9 percent a year between 2010 and 2013, after falling by an average of 6 percent a year in the decade before 2010, researchers said.
The results were published Aug. 24 in The Lancet Global Health journal.
“Recent conflicts have shattered the basic infrastructure in a number of countries. As a result, millions of people are facing dire water shortages and poor sanitation that will lead to disease outbreaks, which must be controlled,” Mokdad explained in a journal news release.
The eastern Mediterranean “has historically seen improvements in life expectancy and other health indicators, even under times of stress,” Mokdad added. But the complex wars related to the Arab uprising have killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions, he said.
“Along with population growth and aging, these ongoing conflicts have dramatically increased the burden of chronic diseases and injuries and many health workers have fled for safer shores,” Mokdad said. Health conditions will deteriorate in many countries for many years and will strain already scarce resources, he added.
The World Health Organization has more on countries in crisis.