BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Top ten causes of death by W.H.O



It is important to understand the leading causes of death because by measuring how many people die each year, the corresponding causes of their death and gauging how diseases and injuries are affecting people, the effectiveness and efficiency of the country’s healthcare system can be assessed. Additionally, the number and cause-of-death statistics help health authorities to determine their focus for public health actions; for instance, a country which experiences a sudden increase in the number of deaths from heart disease and diabetes in a few years, would strongly consider the initiation of vigorous programs to encourage lifestyles that help prevent these illnesses. Similarly, if a country realizes through cause-of-death research and statistics that many children die of malaria, the health budget can be adjusted to accommodate and increase spending in that area.

High-income countries have effective surveillance systems for collecting data on causes of death in the population but most low- and middle-income countries lack such systems, hence, deaths from specific causes are often estimated from incomplete data. Improvements in producing high quality cause-of-death data are crucial for improving health and reducing preventable deaths in these countries.

Leading causes of death differ across the world based on various factors including country, economy and developmental status, age group and income group. In low income countries for instance, over 70% of deaths are attributed to preventable causes such as communicable diseases (CD), pregnancy or childbirth complications and poor nutrition while in high income countries, only less than 10% of deaths are due to these causes. On the other hand, non-communicable diseases (NCD) cause about 88% of deaths in high-income countries and about 37% of deaths in low-income countries.

Considering only the absolute number of deaths, 78% of global NCD deaths occur in low and middle-income countries while some diseases such as lower respiratory infections occur across all income groups. Given the lack of development, infrastructures and basic amenities in low income and developing countries, injuries- especially due to road traffic accidents, claim nearly 5 million lives annually. Road injuries are also among the leading causes of death in the world. The global rate of road traffic accidents was 18.3% but low-income countries have the highest mortality rate with about 28.5% deaths per 100,000.

According to the latest statistics in 2016, there were about 56.9 million deaths worldwide. Over half of these deaths were attributed to ten top causes – with Ischemic heart disease and stroke as the biggest killers- accounting for a combined 15.2 million deaths in the same year. These diseases have remained the leading causes of death globally for 15 years. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease claimed 3 million lives while lung cancer (including trachea and bronchus cancers) caused 1.7 million deaths. Diabetes killed 1.6 million people while deaths due to dementia more than doubled between 2000 and 2016, making it the 5th leading cause of global deaths. Lower respiratory infections remained the most deadly communicable disease, causing 3 million deaths worldwide. Diarrheal diseases caused 1.4 million deaths while tuberculosis had a death toll of 1.3 million, coming in as the 8th and 9th leading cause of global deaths respectively. The 10th cause of death was road injuries which killed 1.4 million people in 2016.

In the United States specifically, about 75% of all deaths are attributed to just ten causes, with the top three accounting for over 50% of all deaths. These ten leading causes of death are similar to the above named causes of death in the world and have remained fairly consistent. They include:

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Chronic lower respiratory disease
  • Accidents
  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • Influenza and pneumonia
  • Kidney disease
  • Suicide

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