Liberia has been listed as the “most improved” country in Africa in terms of life expectancy. The World Health Organization (WHO) in its annual report released on Thursday, May 15, says Liberia is among several countries that have made double-digit gains since 1990.

According to the WHO report quoted by the USA TODAY Newspaper in its Friday, May 16 edition, Liberia saw a 20-year increase in life-expectancy from 42 to 62 years, followed by Ethiopia which saw a 19-year increase from 45 to 64 years.

The report said the Maldives also experienced a 19-year increase in life expectancy from 58 to 77, Cambodia, 18 years from 54 to 72, East Timor, a 16-year increase from 50 to 66 and Rwanda, a 17-year increase from 48 to 65 years.

WHO attributed the increase in life expectancy to several factors, including the fact that in poor countries, fewer children are now dying before age 5 due to advances against pre-mature birth, birth complications and childhood infections.

According to WHO, fewer people in rich countries are dying of heart disease and stroke before 60, due to blood-pressure control and other preventive efforts. WHO also attributed the increase in life-expectancy to the declining use of tobacco in many countries, thereby extending lives.

“The news is not all good. Life expectancy remains below 55 years in nine countries, all in sub-Saharan Africa: Angola, Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Mozambique, Nigeria and Sierra Leone,” USA TODAY quoted the WHO report as saying.

According to the report, the gap between the rich and poor countries remains large.

“A boy born in a rich country can expect to live to 76, which is16 years longer than a boy born in a poor country. For girls, the gap is 19 years; 82 versus 63,” the report indicated. Top honors for life expectancy go to Japan with a life expectancy of 87 for women, followed by Iceland with a life expectancy of 81.2 years for men. The WHO report also notes that 44 million or 6.7 percent of the world’s children under five years were found to be overweight or obese in 2012.

The report added that 10 million of these are in the African region, where levels of childhood obesity have climbed rapidly.