New global health estimates find people are living six years longer now than 20 years ago, but many more people are living with disabilities that affect their quality of life.
The World Health Organization reports life expectancy has gone up from 67 years to 73 years since 2000. Over this period, it notes progress has been made in reducing deaths from a number of communicable diseases.
For example, the WHO says HIV/AIDS has dropped from the 8th leading cause of death in 2000 to the 19th in 2019. And tuberculosis, it says, no longer figures among the global top 10 ranked diseases, falling from 7th place to 13th position over the past two decades.
Another big shift since 2000 is that non-communicable diseases have supplanted communicable diseases as the leading causes of death.
Heart disease remains the world’s number one killer. Samira Asma of WHO's Division of Data, Analytics and Delivery for Impact says deaths from heart disease have risen by more than two million since 2000, to nearly nine million last year.
Neurodegenerative diseases are also taking a big toll.
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are ranking among the top 10 causes of death, with 65 percent of those deaths being women.
The report finds death from diabetes has increased by 70 percent, with men most at risk. It says the Eastern Mediterranean is the region most affected, with deaths from diabetes having more than doubled over the past 20 years.
The director of WHO’s department of noncommunicable diseases, Bente Mikkelsen, says NCDs remain a huge problem in high-income countries. People there run the risk of illness from tobacco, overuse of alcohol and obesity. However, she says 80 percent of premature death from NCDs now occur in low- and middle-income countries.
“When we are unprotected, meaning that we have not been able to modify the risk factors and also the health system is not prepared to respond to heart diseases, diabetes, cancer and lung diseases, we see a very high toll of deaths,” she said.
The report finds disabilities are on the rise, many due to diseases and health conditions.
But it notes injuries are another major cause of disability and death. It reports road traffic injuries have increased by nearly 50% in the African region since 2000 and around 40% in the Eastern Mediterranean. Most of the victims are male.
Drug use in the Americas has emerged as a significant contributor to both disability and death. Data show there has been a nearly threefold increase in deaths from drug use between 2000 and 2019 in that region.
WHO plans to assess the direct and indirect impact of COVID-19 on death and disability in its next edition of Global Health Estimates.