10 Countries With the Shortest Life Expectancy

Yesterday, we examined the envy of the rest of the world: 10 countries with the longest life expectancy. Today, we're going to flip the table and examine the other point of view: 10 countries with the shortest life expectancy.

As the World Health Organization has noted, there are 12,420 different types of disease, disorders, and ailments listed in its master catalog. In other words, our immune and cardiovascular systems deserve a pat on the back just for keeping us going day in and day out!

As we discovered from our study of the top countries in the world with regard to life expectancy, socioeconomic factors and diet, as well as access to medical care and pharmaceutical products, were the primary components that contributed to their superior longevity. Now we'll use the same data from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency that we examined yesterday to decipher what similarities the countries with the shortest life expectancy share and see if there are lessons to be learned that could be used to help us become better investors.

The 10 countries with the shortest life expectancy
Here are the 10 countries with the shortest life expectancy, according to the CIA's 2013 estimates: 

Country

Life Expectancy at Birth, in Years

Chad

49.07

South Africa

49.48

Guinea-Bissau

49.5

Swaziland

50.01

Afghanistan

50.11

Central African Republic

50.9

Somalia

51.19

Zambia

51.51

Namibia

52.03

Gabon

52.15

Source: Central Intelligence Agency, 2013 estimates.

Just as we witnessed with the world's countries with the longest life expectancy, there are some clear similarities with these results.

To start, with the exception of Afghanistan, all of these countries are located in Africa. In fact -- and to tell you the truth, even I was amazed by the magnitude of this statistic -- 36 of the 37 lowest-ranked countries in terms of life expectancy are on the African continent, with the lowest-ranked country, Chad, a full 40 years lower in life expectancy than the leading country, Monaco.

This grouping of these countries has some clear identifying traits that can help us understand why they're among the lowest in the world in terms of life expectancy.

Source: Feed My Starving Children, Flickr.

For one, poverty rates in Africa are significantly higher than anywhere else in the world. With less available disposable income to spend on food, many African nations grapple with high levels of starving citizens who have few food choices available to them. According to figures from the World Bank in 2010, 48.5% of Sub-Saharan African citizens are living on $1.25 or less per day. Compare that to European and Central Asia citizens, of which just 0.7% were living on $1.25 or less per day. Considerably lower income drastically eliminates healthier food choices and makes it difficult for many people in these countries to even get enough food to sustain themselves.

Another problem that runs rampant throughout these African countries is disease. A heath official at WHO in 2012 proclaimed that 63% of all deaths on the African continent are a direct result of infectious diseases. In 2011, for example, 1.7 million new cases of AIDS were reported. AIDS is responsible for close to 1-in-6 deaths in the region. Malaria is another major problem with more than 500 million new cases being reported annually that result in somewhere between 1 million and 3 million deaths each year.

Despite these disappointing disease statistics, things are improving. The same WHO health official noted that child mortality rates for children younger than 5 have dipped from 159 deaths per 1,000 to 109 deaths per 1,000 between 2000 and 2010 while maternal mortality also decreased by one-third.

Infrastructure, or should I say a lack thereof, is another factor that contributes to poor longevity. With few hospitals, medical clinics, and in some cases even roads, it can be difficult for citizens in these countries to get medical care when they need it. Few, if any, are getting regular preventive visits.

Finally, these countries also exhibit a higher propensity for political and military instability that you simply won't find in the top life expectancy countries that we examined yesterday. Civil conflicts and unstable leadership have led to constant fighting in many African countries that can make it difficult to live a long life.

How this can make you money
The dramatic difference in mortality rates between European nations and African countries points to exactly why the African continent is often talked about as the next region of major growth. With so much progress left to come in terms of infrastructure and medical advances, there's plenty of opportunity for investors to take advantage of this growing trend.

I see two particular instances where investors may be able to utilize this data to their advantage.

OraQuick HIV test. Source: Marcello Casal, Wikimedia Commons.

The first involves the possibility of investing in preventive diagnostic and biopharmaceutical drug developers. Take OraSure Technoloiges (NASDAQ: OSUR  ) , for example. This company develops point-of-care tests for hepatitis C as well as HIV, known as the OraQuick Advance Rapid HIV-1/2 Antibody Test. With minimal access to preventive care facilities, getting African citizens access to this test, which provides results in as little as 20 minutes, could quickly help personalize care and improve disease awareness.

Sticking along those same lines, a company such as Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD  ) could possibly find incredible success in Africa. Gilead is among the leading global pharmaceutical providers of HIV/AIDS drugs and recently developed a four-in-one compound known as Stribild. In clinical studies that led to Stribild's approval in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration, 88% to 90% of patients demonstrated an undetectable level of HIV in their blood after 48 weeks. While not curative, Stribild has a significantly positive effect on slowing disease progression. 

Don't forget about immunization vaccine developers, either. Although there are no vaccines available to treat malaria, and we're only touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cancer immunotherapy vaccines, other vaccines such as the BCG vaccine, which provides some degree of immunity to tuberculosis, a common killer in Africa, could be a smart investment. Merck (NYSE: MRK  ) is one of a select few companies around the globe that manufactures the BCG vaccine and could be called on to help stem this sweeping problem in Africa.

Finally, outside of the pharmaceutical field, perhaps it's time to consider fertilizer companies that can help improve crop yields, such as Monsanto (NYSE: MON  ) or Mosaic (NYSE: MOS  ) . There's obviously a lot of angst that surrounds Monsanto because of its use of genetically engineered seeds to modify crops and improve yield. For some countries this isn't a debate. Instead, it's a rush to utilize Monsanto's genetic technology as rapidly as possible to improve crop yields for a starving country. If GMOs go against your investing criteria, though, you can turn to a global phosphate and potash provider such as Mosaic, which helps improve crop yields the old-fashioned way, with increased nutrients to plants, instead.

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