Health progress for various indicators slowed down since 2015; burden of non-communicable diseases increased since 2000
The COVID-19 pandemic may have caused over 20 million deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said in its updated estimates in a new report. A total of 336.8 million life-years have been lost globally due to the pandemic.
Globally, 14.9 million excess deaths could be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic by the end of 2021, stated the World Health Statistics 2023 released May 19, 2023. The official figures are around seven million deaths, but the true figure can be closer to 20 million, WHO said.
The pandemic also disproportionately affected the age group of 45 years and above.
Years of life lost (YLL) is a measure of premature mortality that takes into account both the frequency of deaths and the age at which it occurs. The YLL is the highest globally in ages 55-64 years old, with a total of over 90 million years of life lost.
The health progress on key health indicators has markedly stalled since 2015, compared with the trends seen in 2000-2015, the report found. The COVID-19 pandemic was also responsible for putting many health-related indicators further off-track.
The stagnation in health progress challenges the timely attainment of the United Nations-mandated sustainable development goals (SDG) targets by 2030. The world is also facing an ever-growing threat of non-communicable diseases (NCD) and climate change, the paper said.
UN’s Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, also called 2030 Agenda, set 17 SDGs that aim to mobilise global efforts to end poverty, foster peace, safeguard the rights and dignity of all people and protect the planet.
The population health has notably improved globally since 2000. Child mortality has halved, maternal mortality has fallen by a third, the incidence of many infectious diseases — including human immunodeficiency virus, tuberculosis and malaria — has dropped.
The risks from dying prematurely from NCDs and injuries have declined and global life expectancy at birth rose from 67 years in 2000 to 73 years in 2019.
But after 2015, the rate of progress has worsened and the burden of NCDs has grown immensely. Without faster progress, no regions will achieve the SDG target for NCD mortality by 2030 — and half still won’t by 2048, the global health body pointed out.
Between 2000 and 2015, the annual rate of reduction (ARR) of the global maternal mortality ratio was 2.7 per cent. But this plummeted to -0.04 per cent between 2016 and 2020. Some indicators are far from reaching the midpoint of the required trajectories to reach their respective SDG targets, the WHO pointed out.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said:
The report calls for a substantial increase in investments in health and health systems to get back on track towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
The ARR fell from 4 per cent during the first decade (2000–2009) to 2.7 per cent during the second decade (2010–2021). Meanwhile, the ARR of the neonatal mortality rate fell from 3.2 per cent (2000–2009) to 2.2 per cent (2010–2021). This slowdown is particularly pronounced since 2015.
The cause for the biggest health burden is still NCDs and their impact has worsened in the past two decades. For example, in 2000, 61 per cent of annual deaths were caused by non-communicable diseases. In 2019, they accounted for nearly 75 per cent of annual deaths.
Similarly, in 2000, NCDs caused 47 per cent of global disability-adjusted life years (1.3 billion years); by 2019, NCDs caused 63 per cent (1.6 billion years).
If this trend continues, the proportion of lives lost to NCDs could reach 86 per cent or 77 million deaths per year by the middle of this century. With preventive measures and early detection and treatment, many millions could be saved.
The report is an annual compilation of health and health-related indicators, which has been published by the WHO since 2005.
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