Special Report

The Most (and Least) Healthy Countries in the World

Many factors contribute to the health of a population, and worldwide health varies to the extreme. While most Americans are aware that these global health disparities exist, a look at the health outcomes of each country’s population reveals the extent of these massive health differences.

In the United States, which has its own well-documented health issues, the average person born today can expect to live to be about 79 years old. In the southern African nation of Swaziland, life expectancy is three decades shorter. It should be noted that the U.S. ranks behind 30 other nations longevity.

Although it is certainly important, the quality of a country’s health care system is not the only factor contributing to the health of a population. Poverty, the regional presence of disease, and health behaviors all help determine both quality and length of life. Reviewing health factors such as life expectancy, maternal and infant mortality rates, and the incidence of tuberculosis, 24/7 Wall St. identified the healthiest and least healthy countries. Based on our analysis, Iceland is the healthiest nation, while the southern African nation of Lesotho ranks as the least healthy.

Click here to see the healthiest countries.

Click here to see the least healthy countries.

The relative affluence of a region can have wide-reaching implications on the health of its populace. Extremely poor populations are more likely to live in conditions that put them at greater risk of illness. They are less likely to be able to afford proper nourishment, and more likely to experience stress, which can affect health as well.

Those with little or no disposable income are also much less likely to be able to afford proper health treatment. On a national level, governments and private health enterprises with fewer resources are less likely to be able to provide needed treatment.

Greater health spending is by no means a guarantee of better health outcomes. For example, health spending per capita in the United States is higher than nearly any nation on Earth, but U.S. health ranks behind dozens of nations on this list. However, there appears to be a minimum threshold of health spending necessary to maintain adequate public wellness. The world’s healthiest nations tend to spend more on health than others, and in many of the least healthy nations, spending amounts to a tiny fraction of that in the most developed countries.

In each of the 10 healthiest nations, spending ranges from at least $1,610 per person to $9,674 per person. Among the least healthy nations, health spending ranges from $570 per person in South Africa to just $15.60 per person in the Central African Republic.

The relationship between spending and health outcomes likely points not to prices of care, but to access and use of treatment. It is probably no coincidence that many of the healthiest nations have some form of government subsidized or wholly-funded health care. In Iceland, not only is health care provided by the government, but registration with a general practitioner is compulsory, which contributes to residents’ access to care and increases preventive practices.

One of the major differences between the healthiest and least healthy nations is the presence of preventable illnesses. While tuberculosis, a treatable illness with an existing vaccine, has been effectively eliminated as a threat in most industrialized countries, it remains a serious problem in developing nations. TB’s widespread presence in these nations points to an unsophisticated or inadequate health infrastructure, with minimal vaccination.

In the United States, there are just 3.2 new reported cases of TB per 100,000 residents annually. In South Africa, one of the least healthy nations, there are 834 new reported cases each year per 100,000 people. In the Swaziland, TB leads to 7% of all deaths, making it the third leading cause of death in the country.

While TB is a serious problem in many of the nations on this list, Americans are likely more familiar with another deadly illness, HIV/AIDS. While infection rates of the blood-borne virus have slowly subsided in the United States, the disease continues to decimate large segments of Africa, particularly in southern Africa, where four of the 10 least healthy nations — Lesotho, Swaziland, South Africa, and Mozambique — are located. In Swaziland, nearly 30% of the population lives with the virus.

Click here to read our methodology.

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