Monday, August 13, 2007

Causes of death

Some new data that might appear to be counter-intuitive for some people, or at least contrary to the dogma they have been taught. Here and here, the latest figures from the World Health Organization on causes of death in the world are discussed in the Economist.
What the data show is that chronic diseases (heart disease,cancer) are far more significant than infectious diseases (HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria) as a cause of death in both the developed and developing world.  Chronic diseases have long been considered the peril of affluence.  Indeed they fall outside the remit of the UN's Millennium Development goals: Combating chronic disease is not part of what the UN calls its "universal framework for development".
What the latest data show is that people everywhere are living long enough to contract chronic diseases.  However, poorer countries are less able to combat chronic illnesses and the mortality rates from chronic diseases are higher in developing countries.
The data suggest that the present focus solely on infectious diseases in developing countries is both incorrect and insufficient. 
Again, the easy part of the equation is describing the problem.  What the most effective policy response is to the situation is open to wide interpretation.