An average of 150,000 people dies every day. And one of the brutally unfair realities of life is that where you are born can dramatically change how and at what age you will die.
But why do we need to know the reasons people die?
WHO says it is important to know why people die to improve how people live. Measuring how many people die each year helps to assess the effectiveness of our health systems and direct resources to where they are needed most.
For example, mortality data can help focus activities and resource allocation among sectors such as transportation, food and agriculture, and the environment as well as health.
COVID-19 has highlighted the importance for countries to invest in civil registration and vital statistics systems to allow daily counting of deaths, and direct prevention and treatment efforts.
It has also revealed inherent fragmentation in data collection systems in most low-income countries, where policy-makers still do not know with confidence how many people die and of what causes.
Here are the top 15 causes of death in the world in the last decade.
|1. Ischemic heart disease|
|2. Cerebrovascular disease|
|3. Lower respiratory infections (e.g., pneumonia)|
|5. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease|
|6. Diarrheal diseases|
|9. Cancer of trachea/bronchus/lung|
|10. Road traffic accidents|
|11. Childhood diseases|
|12. other unintentional injuries|
|13. Hypertensive heart disease|
|15. Stomach cancer|
Lost years of Life
There’s a really fascinating measurement called “years of life lost” which measures how many years of the realistic life lost when people die. So if a person can hope to live to age 86 but die in a car accident at age 21, those 65 years are considered “lost years of life” due to car accidents.
It’s basically a way to measure why people are dying early.
Hundreds of researchers from around the world collaborated to collect and analyze that data for each country, and the result is this map. It shows the leading cause of early death in each country for 2013.
Look at Africa. People die early here mainly because of infectious diseases like Pneumonia, Malaria, and Diarrhea which are easily treated in places with stronger health infrastructures. And people are dying young in these places.
4 out of every 10 deaths in these poor countries are among people under 15.
Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia… traffic accidents are the number one cause of lost years of life. Even though half of the population is forbidden to drive. There’s a big trend among young guys to see how crazy they can get on the road. Between that and the lax speed limit enforcement, 19 people die every day on Saudi roads. It’s the same problem facing young guys in neighboring countries.
Over in Venezuela, 25,000 people were killed in homicides last year making violence the leading cause of years lost. Only around 8% of crimes are prosecuted, so gang violence usually goes unchecked. It’s a similar situation in neighboring Colombia.
Syria, where a bloody conflict rages on, the war was the leading cause of lost life.
In China, a lot of people are dying from stroke. This is actually an indicator of a major transition in the region. As the economy in China has industrialized and surged over the past 3 decades, infectious diseases like the ones we saw in Africa, dropped dramatically due to better health infrastructure.
But a stronger economy means eating more fat and sugar, moving less, and breathing in a lot more air pollution. Plus they are living longer. All of these factors increase the likelihood of stroke.
Then there are the wealthier countries, where heart disease is the number one cause of early death. Strangely, it’s actually the sign of the privilege of old age since heart disease is generally considered an age-related disease.
In poor countries, the biggest threat is diseases that kill people early on in life. But in rich countries, death typically comes after a much longer life. Even if it is earlier than the life expectancy.
So the good news is that, overall, “years of life lost” are decreasing in almost every category worldwide. People are living longer overall.
Even though all of this article about death seems kind of depressing, it’s actually an eye-opener.