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Study: Global Health Improves, But AIDS Deaths Rise in Former Soviet Union

A new study has found that the world is healthier today than it was ten years ago, except in sub-Saharan Africa which continues to be ravaged by HIV/ AIDS, and the former Soviet Union, where AIDS deaths are increasing.

The Global Disease Burden Study of 2001 updates health data that were originally collected in 1990.

Published in the British medical journal The Lancet, the study focuses on 136 diseases and injuries contained in health records kept in seven geographic areas.

Investigators sifting through the records report 56 million people died in 2001, almost 11 million of whom were children.

But on average, researchers found a 20 percent per capita reduction in diseases over the ten year period, the result of things like better treatments for infectious illnesses such as diahrreal disease and pneumonia.

The one notable exception was the number of new malaria cases, which seems to be on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa.

Researchers found that HIV / AIDS, which accounted for two percent of deaths in 1990, was responsible for 14 percent of moralities in 2001.

But in most regions where the disease is a significant problem, investigators found a slow down in the number of new infections.

The major exception continues to be the nations of sub-Saharan Africa, which continue to be ravaged by the AIDS epidemic, according to study co-author Majit Ezzati of Harvard University's School of Public Health in Massachusetts. "The magnitude has become enormous and has become enormous, you know, probably beyond what a lot people may have thought even ten or fifteen years ago," the co-author said.

To their surprise, researchers also found an increase in AIDS-related deaths in central European countries that once were part of the Communist bloc.

Harvard University's Ezzati says the increase in AIDS deaths could be due to a number of factors. "Alcohol seems to be a big part of the story. You know, how big it is people still do not completely agree. But it seems to be that alcohol has a set of very acute outcomes," he said.

Ezzati says AIDS and other health problems in central Europe might also be a reflection of fragmented medical care in the post-Soviet era.

Overall, heart disease and stroke were the leading causes of death in low, moderate and high-income countries, together responsible for more than one-fifth of all deaths worldwide.

In developed countries, lung cancer is the third leading cause of death. But that's not the case in developing countries, where the next five out of ten major causes of death are, and remain, infectious diseases.