Aidex Voices

Our overview of new analysis by Our World in Data researcher Hannah Ritchie shows positive global mortality trends overall, but further improvement in hygiene, sanitation, vaccinations and safe water access are needed.

  • Developing nation or not, road accidents don’t discriminate with high death tolls in richest and poorest nations
  • Diarrhoea is world’s eighth biggest killer
  • US life expectancy has fallen slightly in recent years due to drug crisis
  • As child mortality declines, poorest regions have rates like the UK and Sweden in first half of 20th Century
  • Leading cause of death for men aged 20-40 in UK is suicide, with all global suicides twice as high as homicides

Over a period of 65 years between 1950 to 2015, the average life expectancy shot up from 46 to over 71. However, many around the world are still dying too young and from preventable causes.

Whilst terrorism, war and natural disasters preoccupy the media and us the most, these contribute to less than 0.5% of all deaths combined.

56 million people in the world died in 2017 – 10 million more than in 1990 due to an increase in global population and longer average life-spans.

Noncommunicable, otherwise known as long-term chronic diseases account for 71% of all deaths. The biggest single killer is cardiovascular disease, which is responsible for a third and the second leading cause, amounting to one in six of all deaths is cancers.

World Data global disease
Preventable deaths

In 2017 a shocking 1.6 million people died from diarrhoea-related diseases, claiming eighth place in the top ten biggest killers.

Twice as many people globally died from suicide as from homicide. In the UK, suicides are 16 times higher and is the leading cause of death for men aged 20-40.

That same year, 1.8 million newborns died from neonatal disorders within their first 28 days.

Developing countries

What people die from changes over time as their country develops. The frequency of causation is country-dependent with one in every 1,000 neonatal deaths in Japan compared to one in 20 in some of the world’s poorest countries. 

Although many high-income countries have seen significant falls in road deaths in recent decades, globally the number has seen little difference. Both rich and poor countries incur high road accidents, claiming 1.2 million lives in 2017.

Child mortality ratesUsually, what people die from changes over time and as their country develops. Infectious diseases in the past played a bigger part than they do now, for instance, as deaths resultant from communicable and infectious diseases dropped in 1990 from one in three to one in five by 2017.

With children particularly vulnerable to infectious diseases, as recently as the 19th Century, every third child in the world died before the age of five. Child mortality rates have fallen significantly since the introduction of vaccines and improvements in hygiene, nutrition, healthcare and access to clean water.

Child deaths in rich countries are now relatively rare, while the poorest regions today namely Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have child mortality rates like the UK and Sweden in the first half of the 20th Century and are continuing to catch up.

The role of modern healthcare in the reduction of child deaths is championed as one of the greatest success stories. Death rates have since shifted towards non-contagious diseases in elderly people such as dementia which accounts for the world’s sixth biggest killer, which has raised concerns about the increasing burden on healthcare systems to deal with older people with longer-term illnesses.

World Data global disease 2The HIV/Aids crisis dramatically interrupted steady improvement on life expectancy in Sub-Saharan Africa in particular. 35 million lives have been claimed by this global public health issue and two thirds of the total of new HIV infections (1.8 million in 2017 were in Africa), where 25.7 million are affected.

A combination of antiretroviral therapy, and education on prevention meant global deaths from Aids-related illness have halved in the last decade from 2 million a year, down to less than 1 million.

Even in the richest countries progress cannot be assumed. The opioid drug crisis in the US has driven life expectancy down slightly over the past few years, and life expectancy for new mothers has not grown consistently. There are about 10 countries where a young woman today would be more likely to die during or shortly after childbirth than her mother was, including the US.

The overall trends are positive, as we live longer lives with few people and especially children dying from preventable causes. There is still a long way to go, with further improvements in sanitation, hygiene, nutrition, vaccinations and basic healthcare instrumental to progress. Mental health provision and better safety provisions are also crucial.

This piece was based on the initial publication of findings here.