KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 1 — Sabah was the only state to record a decrease in women’s life expectancy over the past decade amid rising trends in all other states, according to the Khazanah Research Institute (KRI).
KRI’s report titled “Social Inequalities and Health in Malaysia” found that women’s life expectancy in Sabah for the year 2010 was 78.3 years, declining by 2.3 years to 76 years in 2020. Women’s life expectancy is intrinsically linked to maternal and child health. Meanwhile, men’s life expectancy in Sabah dropped from 75 years in 2010 to 73 years in 2020.
However, KRI noted that from 2001 to 2019, all other states in Malaysia recorded rising life expectancies for both women and men except for Sabah, which is the country’s poorest state with the highest non-citizen population. Data for Sabah included Labuan. Perlis’ life expectancy for men also slightly decreased this year compared to 2010, but the state’s life expectancy for women rose marginally in the same period.
KRI’s report released today also found that life expectancy for those living in the country’s state capital of Kuala Lumpur is higher than those living in the east coast.
In 2020, a female newborn in Kuala Lumpur is expected to live up to 79.4 years, while a female newborn in Terengganu is only expected to live up to 75.1 years. This means that there is a gap of 4.3 years in the life expectancy between Kuala Lumpur and Terengganu for this year.
Furthermore, a male newborn in Sarawak in 2020 is expected to live up to 74.6 years, 5.4 years higher than a male newborn in Perlis (69.2 years). Sarawak’s high life expectancy, the highest for men and third-highest for women this year in the country, coupled with among Malaysia’s best child mortality rates is somewhat puzzling, considering that health facilities are sparse in the rural state.
Women’s life expectancy was highest in Kuala Lumpur at 79.4 years for this year, followed by Penang (78.9 years), Sarawak (78.4 years), Selangor (78.3 years), and Melaka (78 years) — all five surpassed the national female average at 77.6 years. The worst states for the year 2020 for women’s life expectancy were Terengganu (75.1 years), Perlis (75.7 years), and Sabah (76.0 years).
Malaysia’s Life Expectancy Lower Than Singapore And Thailand
In 1990, Malaysia’s life expectancy was 71.9, which was higher than that of Thailand (71.3) and Turkey (68.7).
Although in 2019, Malaysia made progress with an increase in life expectancy to 75 years, countries like Turkey and Thailand, which had a lower life expectancy than Malaysia in 1990, have now surpassed Malaysia.
In 2019, Thailand had a life expectancy of 78.4 years while Singapore had a life expectancy of 84.9 years, both higher than Malaysia’s 75 years of life expectancy.
Moreover, in 2017, Malaysia’s observed expected life expectancy of 74.7 years was one year fewer than the expected life expectancy of 75.7 years. Countries like Thailand, Turkey and Chile had much higher observed life expectancies as compared to Malaysia.
As a whole, as compared to 1970, Malaysia’s life expectancy has been showing an increasing trend over the past 50 years.
Back in 1970, a male newborn could only live up to 61.6 years but in 2020, a male baby born can live to 72.6 years, an increase of 11 years. The life expectancy for a female newborn in Malaysia also increased by 12 years from 1970 (65.6 years) to 2020 (77.6 years).
This year, women in Malaysia, with a life expectancy of 77.6 years, have a higher life expectancy by five years as compared to men at 72.6 years. KRI did not provide Malaysia’s 2020 life expectancy across genders.
However, it is important to note that Malaysia’s life expectancy growth has plateaued over the last ten years, especially for men. This means that the improvements of life expectancy were the highest between 1970 to 1980, but moderated since then.
Over the past nine years, the life expectancy for men and women in Malaysia only grew by 0.5 and 0.8 life years respectively.
Based on ethnic groups, the life expectancy of Malaysia’s three major ethnic groups have increased from 1991 to 2020, but ethnic Chinese women have the highest life expectancy of 80.5 years in 2020, four years more than Bumiputera and Indian women. The national average life expectancy for women in 2020 was 77.6 years.
In 2020, men of Indian (68.4 years) and Bumiputera ethnicity (71.3 years) were behind the national average life expectancy for men of 72.6 years by 4.2 years and 1.3 years respectively.
Neonatal And Infant Mortality Decline
Neonatal mortality rates in Malaysia have declined by 81 per cent from 1970 with 21.4 deaths per 1,000 live births, to 4.1 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2019.
Meanwhile, in the same period, infant mortality rates dropped by 83.3 per cent from 39.4 deaths per 1,000 live births to 6.4 deaths per 1,000 live births. The under-five mortality (deaths among children aged below five years) also dropped from 55.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1970 to 7.7 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2019.
However, KRI noted that child mortality rates between 2000 and 2019 were inconsistent across states. States like Melaka and Terengganu recorded a steady decline across all three indicators of neonatal, infant, and under-five mortality, but states like Selangor, Sabah, and the capital city of Kuala Lumpur showed a gradual increase in mortality rates.
Sabah recorded the worst average child mortality rates between 2015 and 2019. Putrajaya, the country’s administrative centre located in the Klang Valley, reported the second-highest average infant mortality and under-five mortality rates in Malaysia, beating Labuan.
Malaysia’s maternal mortality ratio due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth has also declined by 85 per cent from 1970 to 2019.
The maternal mortality ratio in 1970 was 140.8 deaths per 100,000 live births and the ratio for 2019 was 21.2 deaths per 100,000 live births. Malaysia was lauded for its systematic approach in reducing maternal deaths through the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths (CEMD) that was started in 1991 to improve the quality of maternal deaths statistics, identifying causes of maternal deaths, and subsequently planning of remedial actions to reduce maternal deaths.
Cardiovascular Diseases, Cancer Are Malaysia’s Leading Cause Of Deaths
As compared to 1990, there has been a marked increase in mortality rates due to cardiovascular diseases and cancers.
The 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) found that four in 10 people, or eight million adults in Malaysia have raised total cholesterol levels, while three in 10 people or 6.4 million people in Malaysia have hypertension.
Untreated high blood pressure leads to serious consequences like heart attacks, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases.
Although there has been a significant decline in mortality rates due to maternal, neonatal disorders, digestive infections, and other infectious diseases, Malaysia’s mortality rate due to respiratory infections and tuberculosis have doubled over the past two decades.
Moreover, men recorded much higher mortality rates as compared to women, although there has been a decline in overall mortality rates from 1990 to 2019.
In 2019, for both men and women in Malaysia, the leading cause of death was due to ischaemic heart disease that contributes to 20.7 per cent of deaths for men and 17.4 per cent of total deaths for women.
In Malaysia, 6.1 per cent of men died of road injuries in 2019, while road injuries was not listed under the top 10 causes of deaths for women. According to KRI, 2.8 per cent of women died of diabetes, which was higher than men (1.7 per cent).
The NHMS survey also found one in five adults have diabetes in Malaysia, which is about 3.9 million people aged 18 years and above.