The World Health Organization has revealed that noncommunicable diseases now make up seven of the world’s top 10 causes of death worldwide.
The WHO’s 2019 Global Health Estimates report reveals trends over the last two decades in mortality and morbidity caused by diseases and injuries, highlighting the need for an intensified global focus on preventing and treating cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases, as well as tackling injuries.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, said: “These new estimates are another reminder that we need to rapidly step up prevention, diagnosis and treatment of noncommunicable diseases. They highlight the urgency of drastically improving primary health care equitably and holistically. Strong primary health care is clearly the foundation on which everything rests, from combating noncommunicable diseases to managing a global pandemic.”
Top causes of death
The report reveals that heart disease has remained the main cause of death worldwide for the last 20 years; with the number of deaths from heart disease increasing by more than two million since 2000 to nearly nine million in 2019 – representing 16% of total deaths.
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are also now among the top 10 causes of death worldwide, ranking third in both the Americas and Europe in 2019, with women being disproportionately affected.
Deaths from diabetes have also increased by 70% globally between 2000 and 2019.
The report highlights a global decline in communicable diseases but says they are still a major challenge for low- and middle-income countries across the globe. For example, in 2019, pneumonia and other lower respiratory infections were the deadliest group of communicable diseases and together ranked as the fourth leading cause of death, however, this is a decrease compared to 2000.
HIV/AIDS dropped from the 8th leading cause of death in 2000 to the 19th in 2019, reflecting the success of efforts to prevent infection over the last two decades.
The estimates show that, although people are living longer lives, more people are living with disabilities. The report states that heart disease, diabetes, stroke, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were collectively responsible for nearly 100 million additional healthy life years lost in 2019 compared to 2000 and that injuries are a major cause of disability and death.
The estimates also show that in the Americas, drug use has emerged as a significant contributor to both disability and death, with a near to threefold increase in deaths from drug use disorders between 2000 and 2019. This is the only region that has drug use disorder as a top 10 contributor to healthy life years lost due to premature deaths and disability. Drug use does not make the top 25 in any other region.
Dr Bochen Cao, the technical lead for WHO’s Global Health Estimates, said: “These estimates are produced using data from the best available sources from countries and the international community. They are based on robust scientific methods for the processing, synthesis and analysis of data. These updated estimates also benefited from the valuable contributions of WHO’s Member States through active country consultation and dialogue.”