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Renewed International Efforts Could Prevent Premature Adult Deaths

  • Jessica Berman

With a sustained international effort, the number of premature adult deaths could be slashed by 40 percent within the next 20 years. That’s the conclusion of a new study, which concludes most of the deaths of those aged 50 to 69 are preventable.

Thanks to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, child deaths fell by one-third worldwide between 2000 and 2010. University of Oxford epidemiologist Richard Peto said that was largely as a result of vaccination campaigns targeting diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles and polio.

A paper by Peto and 16 international co-authors found that other development goals - reducing maternal mortality and fighting AIDS, malaria and other infectious diseases - cut premature death among adults by one-sixth during the same time frame.

Now, he said, if the world begins an intense effort to further eliminate preventable causes of death, including injuries, we could see a steeper decline.

“Death before old age is mostly avoidable. So death before 70 on the whole [doesn’t] have to happen [from] avoidable causes. And we can just work together internationally to reduce those avoidable causes,” said Peto.

Writing in the journal The Lancet, Peto and his co-authors suggest that rates of smoking can be reduced by increasing the price of cigarettes. In many countries, including China and across Africa, tobacco is a leading cause of preventable death, as is stroke.

Peto said many deaths can be prevented with the widespread use of inexpensive generic drugs.

“You’ve got to keep on really really getting drugs out, trying to treat HIV and trying to prevent the spread. You can actually treat TB," said Peto. "But these things -- you really can beat them if you put the effort in.”

The United Nations General Assembly begins high level meetings on Monday to discuss a new set of Sustainable Development Goals, to replace the one that expires at the end of next year. The overall goal is to ensure healthy lives and promote the well-being of individuals, regardless of age. Peto and his co-authors call on the delegates to include a specific target for each country to reduce premature deaths among adults by 40 percent by 2030.