WHO’s Annual World Health Statistics Report reveals state of global health

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Every year, the World Health Organization analyzes data and figures from the world over to gain a better insight into the current condition of global public health. The report for 2017 was released in May and examines the status of its 194 member states and their progress in fulfilling the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. The report is extensive – 116 pages – but we’ve done the research and reading for you, finding the most important elements of the study. But first, let’s take a look at the UN’s SDGs:

What are the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals?

The Millennium Development Goals, which were adopted in 2000 and had a timeline ending in 2015, emphasized human capital, infrastructure and human rights. Although the objectives weren’t completely fulfilled by their deadline, a large amount of progress was made. As a result, the UN decided to create a new set of intentions that replaces and expands upon the MDGs in a more comprehensive manner.

In September 2015, more than 150 world leaders gathered in New York and agreed to take a step forward together to make the world and the planet a better place. The outcome of their discussions was the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This timetable sets a list of 17 goals that aim to end poverty, protect the planet and gain prosperity for all, according to the UN. The Sustainable Development Goals are as follows:
1. No poverty.
2. Zero hunger.
3. Good health and well-being.
4. Quality education.
5. Gender equality.
6. Clean water and sanitation.
7. Affordable and clean energy.
8. Decent work and economic growth.
9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure.
10. Reduced inequalities.
11. Sustainable cities and communities.
12. Responsible consumption and production.
13. Climate action.
14. Life below water.
15. Life on land.
16. Peace, justice and strong institutions.
17. Partnerships for the goals.

Now that we know what the 2030 SDG Agenda holds, here’s how participating countries have progressed in 2017:

Reporting of cause of death on the rise

One of the keys to improving quality of life and life expectancy is understanding what causes fatalities around the world and examining the various factors involved in those deaths. In 2015, half of the reported deaths – 27 million out of 56 million total – were registered with a particular cause. This figure is up from 2005, when only one-third of fatalities included this information.

With cause of death details at their fingertips, researchers can gain insight into the diseases and other elements that are resulting in serious, if not fatal, illness. As a result, medical professionals can then target those factors as they attempt to develop cures and courses of treatment. The increased reporting gives countries an idea of what they need to do to improve the health and well-being of their citizens. This element has room for improvement. While countries like Iran witnessed serious improvements in death registration – from 5 percent reporting in 1999 to 90 percent in 2015 – other locations still have a ways to go. Countries including India, Honduras, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Tunisia had below 50 percent completeness in this category, according to the WHO report.

Infant mortality rates decline

Over the years, great strides have been made in third-world, underprivileged countries to enhance the lives of expectant and new mothers as well as their infant children. Despite improvements to the care they receive, the question of access and resources still exists.

WHO’s goal is to reduce the maternal mortality rate to 70 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2030 from 216 per 100,000 in 2015. According to the organization’s study, this would require a 7.5 percent global reduction on an annual basis, which is more than triple the yearly rate that was accomplished between 1990 and 2015. While it is an uphill battle, this goal has a better chance of being achieved when women have greater access to the care they need. That means not only family planning services, but the assistance of a trained medical professional – doctor, midwife or nurse – during the process of childbirth.

Mortality rates in children did witness a decline, although those that survived faced serious challenges. The WHO report found that the global under-five mortality rate was reduced by 44 percent compared to that in 2000, while the neonatal figure decreased by 37 percent in the same timeframe. Despite this improvement, 155 million children under the age of five were too short for their age, 52 million were too light for their height and 41 million were overweight in 2016. Once again, these numbers call access to necessary nutritional resources into question.

Treatable, but infectious diseases increase

The spread of communicable illnesses rages on, although the main culprits may not be the diseases public health officials are used to addressing. While malaria and HIV still result in newly infected individuals and communities around the world, treatment and prevention measures have made a great deal of difference.

The global figure of malaria cases decreased 41 percent between 2000 and 2015, largely due to insecticide-treated bed nets and more in-depth information and education related to the disease. The end of 2015 saw 36.7 million people living with HIV, but 18.2 million were receiving antiretroviral therapy by the middle of 2016.

Instead, communicable illnesses like tuberculosis and hepatitis saw an increase in cases around the world in the recent years, even though both remain treatable and curable conditions. The former disease caused an estimated 1.4 million deaths, and the latter resulted in 1.3 million fatalities. Access to diagnostic and treatment facilities for tuberculosis and to the vaccine for hepatitis has become increasingly important as a result, as is education surrounding these infectious illnesses, which can be prevented and treated with the right information and resources at individuals’ disposal.

Noncommunicable diseases cause 70 percent of total global deaths

While infectious illnesses pose a large threat to communities around the world, chronic conditions are resulting in the majority of global deaths. There are four main noncommunicable diseases, which caused 40 million fatalities in 2015:

1. Cardiovascular disease.
2. Cancer.
3. Chronic respiratory disease.
4. Diabetes.
These conditions accounted for 70 percent of the overall total global deaths, which reached 56 million in 2015, according to the WHO report. It’s important to note, however, that the risk of fatality due to these four main illnesses between the ages of 30 and 70 decreased from 23 percent in 2000 to 19 percent in 2015. Noncommunicable diseases exist due a number of reasons, including genetic, environmental and physiological factors, and tend to impact greater populations of people living in middle- to low-income countries.

Universal health care expenditures on the rise

Healthcare is a serious item of concern for places around the world, and as a result, has made it onto the UN’s set of goals for 2030. The organization aims to increase access to universal coverage, increasing its influence and impact on citizens and their immediate environments. Each country’s contribution and dedication to this benefit depends on its gross national product and the needs of its communities. According to WHO, the average national percentage of government expenditure set aside for healthcare was 11.7 percent in 2014. Specifically, the general government health expenditure for the U.S. in 2014 was 21.3 percent. While this is a good place to start, there’s still a long way to go.

The answer lies in increasing access to health services, systems, personnel, medications and innovations in lower-income countries, especially in terms of resources for chronic and noncommunicable diseases. Since the focus is not on these communities, the figures that feature improvement tend to be skewed to richer environments with the ability to better provide for their citizens.

Life expectancy grows and varies around the world

One of the most important outcomes that will result from the accomplishment of the UN’s SDGs is an improved quality of life for individuals and their communities. Furthermore, life expectancy will also likely increase, as people are able to maintain more healthy and long-lasting actions and behaviors when social determinants are in a strong state.

As of right now, certain countries are leading the pack when it comes to life expectancy. Japan is at the top of the list, with an average lifespan of 83.7 years for both sexes. Women of this country fare even better, with a life expectancy of 86.8 years. Switzerland and Singapore come in at second and third place, with 83.4 and 83.1 averages, respectively. Alternatively, the African region had the lowest average lifespans, with several countries – Sierra Leone, Chad, and Angola, to name a few – barely crossing the 50 year threshold. Life expectancy averages rely on the factors discussed above. With fewer limits to quality of life, individuals and their communities can truly thrive, leading to longer and healthier lives.

Next steps for public health leaders

The annual WHO World Health Statistics report acts as a framework for public health officials looking to make a difference. The study lays out 17 goals these leaders can work toward in their own communities, as well as those around the world. For many underprivileged individuals, knowing they have support from a knowledgeable source who is dedicated to increasing access to necessary services, systems and resources is a good start – and a strong confidence boost.

Earning a Master’s degree in Public Health from the University of Arizona can prepare public health leaders to identify problems of concern – as well as their potential solutions – in their own communities. The online MPH concentrations in applied epidemiology, health services administration and health promotion offer students the following:

• Applied Epidemiology: Training in the measurement and study of the distribution, causes and characteristics of disease across specific communities and demographics.
• Health Services Administration: Education on the business and administrative facets of health care in pursuit of leadership roles in various settings.
• Health Promotion: Concentration on the impact of sociocultural elements on health and its behaviors and how promotion and introduction of health policies improves quality of life.


Recommended Readings:

USB HIV test could help developing countries
Social Determinants and Their Effects on Quality of Life


UN Sustainable Development Summit

About the Sustainable Development Goals