Facts and figures

The median average life expectancy for a Commonwealth country is about 70 years.

Non-communicable diseases, mainly diabetes, cancers, chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, impact all regions of the Commonwealth. Diabetes affects 65 million Commonwealth citizens. Nauru has the highest rate of prevalence amongst member states, with 31% of the adult population affected by the disease. Cancerous diseases are widespread, although their impact on the Commonwealth is less than it is on the rest of the world. The Commonwealth is about 30% of the world’s population, but accounts for a less proportionate 19% of worldwide cancer deaths. Detection mechanisms for cancers are much more advanced in the developed part of the Commonwealth whilst, proportionately, developed countries carry the greater burden of mortality, as a result of illness.

AIDS is a leading cause of death in the Commonwealth, taking the lives of 1.2 million  citizens a year (2009). According to the Commonwealth Secretariat, Commonwealth countries represent approximately 30% of the world’s population, but carry a disproportionate 60% of the world’s HIV/AIDS current burden of over 40 million infected people.

Vector-borne diseases are major health issues in Commonwealth Africa and South Asia. Malaria particularly continues to threaten the lives of mainly pregnant women and children under five years of age.  In reality, it is in the poorest countries where malaria takes its highest toll, due to lack of finance and prevention mechanisms.

Under-five mortality is highest in less-developed member state Sierra Leone, with 174  deaths for every 1,000 live births, and lowest in Singapore with three children under five years of age dying (2010). In at least 16 Commonwealth countries, less than 90% of the population have access to clean water. 22 Commonwealth countries have less than 90% population access to adequate sanitation facilities.

In terms of health provision, Malta has the highest number of medical doctors per capita at about 307 for every 100,000 people, and India the highest number overall, over 640,000 doctors work in the country.  Mauritius and Australia have the highest concentration of pharmaceutical personnel in the Commonwealth, 13 and 11 respectively for every 10,000 people; and again, India has the highest overall in the Commonwealth, and the world, with 580,000 pharmaceutical personnel.  With more than 10% of government health expenditure going to healthcare in most Commonwealth countries, including the least-developed, it is perhaps not the lack of government commitment but lack of overall funds that impedes healthcare delivery. In fact, less developed countries such as Rwanda, Malawi and Nauru lead the Commonwealth with the highest public expenditure on health as a proportion of total public expenditure.

The UK is the only Commonwealth country, and one of a few select countries worldwide, with a sophisticated pharmaceutical industry comprised of significant research initiatives, transnational corporations, innovators and reproducer firms which manufacture medicines which are not protected by patent. Commonwealth countries such as India, Canada and Australia have noteworthy industries with innovative capability, having already discovered and marketed their own drugs. India particularly has a rapidly growing market and an industry led mainly by large pharmaceutical multinationals which have hundred million dollar research and development capacities.  Although they remain major net importers, virtually all member states in the rest of Asia and Africa, and additionally, Trinidad and Tobago, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Jamaica, have a domestic medicine manufacturing industry based on reproducer firms and companies which concentrate on finishing products from imported ingredients. Pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities are non-existent in the vast majority of small island developing states.