Latest UN findings will help countries design better health strategies

27 October 2008

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in rich countries, while pneumonia is the number one killer in poor nations, reveals a new study published by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) that provides countries with key data for decision-making, planning and setting priorities.

The latest assessment of the Global Burden of Disease provides features comparisons between deaths, diseases and injuries whether by region, age, sex or country income for 2004.

The WHO study also provides projections of deaths and burden of disease by cause and region to the year 2030, as well as details of the top 10 causes of death and estimates for over 130 disease and injury causes.

“It is vital that we have a global and regional picture of deaths, disease and disability,” says Colin Mathers, WHO’s Coordinator for Epidemiology and Burden of Disease and lead author of the study.

“It enables policymakers and countries to identify the gaps and ensure that help and efforts are directed to those who are most in need. Countries can use the information to create strategies and cost-effective interventions aimed at improving health across the world.”

Among its findings, the study says that the top five causes of death in poor countries are pneumonia, heart disease, diarrhoea, HIV/AIDS and stroke, while in rich countries it is heart disease, followed by stroke, lung cancer, pneumonia, and asthma/bronchitis.

It also shows that men between the ages of 15 and 60 years have much higher risks of dying than women in the same age category in every region of the world.

According to WHO, this is mainly due to higher levels of heart diseases and injuries, including those from violence and conflict. This difference is most pronounced in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and the Eastern European region.

Depression is the leading cause of years lost due to disability, the burden being 50 per cent higher for females than males, the study says. Alcohol abuse is among the 10 leading causes of disability in both rich and poor countries.

In addition, Africa accounts for nine out of every 10 child deaths due to malaria and to HIV/AIDS, and half of the world’s child deaths due to diarrhoeal disease and pneumonia.

The study contains information on causes of death in the different regions, leading causes of death by age and sex, and the numbers of people with various diseases and disabilities.

Also included are the causes of loss of health and the actual loss of years of good health, which are measured in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs). One Daly is equivalent to the loss of one year of full health.


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