1 in 4 deaths worldwide caused by heart disease or stroke

December 13, 2012

The authors searched academic research papers, verbal autopsy results, hospital records, and censuses, amongst other sources, to identify as many published and unpublished data sources as possible which would be relevant to estimating causes of death in 187 countries in the last two decades. The data were then analysed, with limitations and uncertainties rigorously evaluated, to estimate the number of deaths attributable to 235 different causes across all 187 countries. The researchers also estimated years of life lost due to premature mortality (YLLs) for each cause, providing a measure of which causes result in the highest number of premature deaths, by weighting deaths at a younger age more highly than those at an older age.

Overall, the number of deaths from communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional causes decreased by around 17% between 1990 and 2010 (from 15.9 million deaths in 1990 to 13.2 million deaths in 2010), with the rate of deaths per person decreasing by around a quarter. This change was largely driven by substantial reductions in the number of deaths caused by diarrhoeal disease (from 2.5 to 1.4 million), lower respiratory tract infections (from 3.4 to 2.8 million), neonatal conditions such as preterm birth complications (from 3.1 to 2.2 million), as well as decreases in measles and tetanus deaths. However, despite these decreases, communicable, maternal, and neonatal causes still accounted for half of all premature deaths in sub-Saharan Africa in 2010.

The burden of HIV and malaria remain high, despite concerted efforts to tackle these communicable diseases in recent years. Deaths from HIV / AIDS increased from 0.3 million in 1990 to 1.5 million in 2010, reaching a peak of 1.7 million in 2006. Malaria mortality also rose by an estimated 19.9% since 1990 to 1.17 million deaths in 2010.

Non-communicable diseases (such as cancer, diabetes, and heart diseases) accounted for nearly two out of every three deaths worldwide in 2010, compared to around one in two of all deaths in 1990. 38% more people died of cancer in 2010 compared to 1990 (8.0 million deaths in 2010, compared to 5.8 million in 1990), and ischaemic heart disease and stroke collectively caused around one in four deaths worldwide in 2010 (12.9 million deaths), compared to one in five of all deaths in 1990 (9.9 million deaths).

According to Professor Rafael Lozano, of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, one of the study's authors, "Our analyses, for the first time, allow such comparative assessments and are important inputs into discussions about goals and targets for the post-MDG era. The rapid and global rise in premature death from leading non-communicable diseases argues strongly for inclusion of these conditions, and their principal causes, in this agenda, particularly in view of their close relation to poverty reduction goals."
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