WHO reveals leading causes of death

All of the focus this year may have been on COVID-19, but communicable diseases are no longer the biggest worry when it comes to the leading causes of death around the world.

The World Health Organization (WHO) revealed its 2019 Global Health Estimates this week, which found that noncommunicable diseases now make up seven of the world’s top 10 leading causes of death and nine of Australia’s.

Only four or the top 10 causes of death were noncommunicable diseases when the last report was released in 2000.

The current study, which covers the period from 2000 to 2019, saw dementia and diabetes enter the top 10 causes of death for the first time.

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are now among the top 10 causes of death worldwide, ranking as the second highest cause of death in Australia, but seventh overall in the global outlook. Women are disproportionally affected: globally, 65 per cent of deaths from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are women.

Heart disease has remained the leading cause of death at the global level for the past 20 years. However, it is now killing more people than ever.

The number of deaths from heart disease has increased by more than two million since 2000, to nearly nine million in 2019.

Heart disease now represents 16 per cent of total deaths from all causes. More than half of the two million additional deaths were in the WHO Western Pacific region, which includes Australia.

Conversely, the European region has seen a relative decline in heart disease, with deaths falling by 15 per cent.

Deaths from diabetes increased by 70 per cent globally between 2000 and 2019, with an 80 per cent rise in deaths among males, to become the ninth biggest killer worldwide and seventh biggest killer in Australia.

In 2019, pneumonia and other lower respiratory infections were the deadliest group of communicable diseases and together ranked as the fourth leading cause of death worldwide. In Australia respiratory infections were only the eighth biggest killer and the only communicable disease inside the top 10.

However, compared to 2000, lower respiratory infections were claiming fewer lives than in the past, with the global number of deaths decreasing by nearly half a million.

This reduction is in line with a general global decline in the percentage of deaths caused by communicable diseases. For example, HIV/AIDS dropped from the eighth leading cause of death in 2000 to the 19th in 2019, reflecting the success of efforts to prevent infection, test for the virus and treat the disease over the past two decades.

Tuberculosis is also no longer in the global top 10, falling from seventh place in 2000 to 13th in 2019, with a 30 per cent reduction in global deaths.

The WHO report also confirms that people are living longer.

People were living more than six years longer than in 2000, with a global average of more than 73 years in 2019 compared to nearly 67 in 2000.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Australia is well ahead of the global average. A boy born today is expected to live to 80.9 years and a girl to 85.0 years.

According to the ABS figures, an Australian male aged 50 years can expect to live another 32.9 years, and a female another 36.3 years.

The figures also show that not all of those extra year of life are healthy, however, with disability on the rise.

The causes of disability are for the most part linked to the leading causes of death. Heart disease, diabetes, stroke, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were collectively responsible for nearly 100 million additional healthy life years lost in 2019 compared to 2000.

While these figures do not include the impact of COVID-19, the next update will include an assessment of the direct and indirect impact of the pandemic on mortality.

“These new estimates are another reminder that we need to rapidly step up prevention, diagnosis and treatment of noncommunicable diseases,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO.

The top 10 global causes of death in 2019
1. Ischaemic heart disease
2. Stroke
3. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
4. Lower respiratory infections
5. Neonatal conditions
6. Trachea, bronchus, lung cancers
7. Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias
8. Diarrhoeal diseases
9. Diabetes
10. Kidney diseases

The top 10 cause of death in Australia in 2019
1. Ischaemic heart disease
2. Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias
3. Stroke
4. Trachea, bronchus, lung cancers
5. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
6. Colon and rectum cancers
7. Diabetes
8. Lower respiratory infections
9. Prostate cancer
10. Breast cancer

Are you surprised that Alzheimer’s is such a big killer in Australia? Are you worried about being diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s?

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Written by Ben Hocking

Ben Hocking is a skilled writer and editor with interests and expertise in politics, government, Centrelink, finance, health, retirement income, superannuation, Wordle and sports.

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