Czechs are living longer. This is the good news from a United Nations' state of the world population report just released. The statistics are just as encouraging when it comes to infant mortality - with one of the lowest figures in the world, and levels of HIV infection in the country, which are very low. But one figure does bring serious cause for concern - Czechs are having fewer children, and the birth rate is in rapid decline. I'm joined by Jan Velinger, who has been going over the statistics.
"As you suggested the numbers for the Czechs are promising indeed: a relatively high life expectancy rate, certainly far higher, than before the fall of communism fifteen years ago. If my memory serves me correctly then, the average age reached by men was only in the high 60s. Today the average age reached by Czech men is 72, Czech women 78, which is a little bit above or in the women's case, the same as the European average. Earlier today, I spoke with Michal Broza from the U.N.'s information centre in Prague, who confirmed there really have been significant changes since 1989."
"The population indicators put the Czech Republic now among the most advanced countries in the world. Life expectancy, infant mortality, even maternal mortality results are better than the averages of Europe or even the world. But, we have to take into account that there are countries in the Balkans, in the former Soviet Union, were the results are far worse. The Czech Republic, actually, is doing in population issues the best among the former eastern bloc."
There are many different factors, for example, that influence life expectancy; could we say in general terms it would have to do with general lifestyle change, everything from improved diet to increased exercise, improvements in the workplace and so on?
"Well, certainly. I think all of these things influenced the results of the Czech Republic and it is pretty evident that the new orientation of the country after 1989 changed many population indicators."
Michal Broza of the U.N. information centre there; now Jan, were there any other statistics that caught your attention?
"There were, in fact surprising data mapping the responsible use of contraception: 63 percent of Czech women, 14 points higher than the European average. Another plus, for the Czechs, at least for now, is a relatively low presence of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome - AIDS - in the Czech Republic. There experts have long warned of hidden numbers, a sudden rise - but it hasn't come yet, although it's important to note that the number of official cases is certainly lower than the true amount."
Still, what about the numbers for Czechs that are most disturbing, namely population decline?
"Well, there the U.N. report has simply confirmed a long-term trend: while the overall population of the world is going to explode over the next 50 years, and is a major dilemma for all of us, the number of Czechs is expected to decline, by around one million-and-a-half. Says Michal Broza, long-term programmes in immigration must be set-up here to deal with the problem, that is actually Europe-wide.
"If Europe wants to sustain at least the current population level, it should double in the future the number of immigrants."
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