How Much Does Modern Medicine Cut the Number of Early Deaths?

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Modern medicine is succeeding in reducing the number of early deaths, according to new data from British medical journal Lancet. The past 37 years have seen declining rates of communicable, maternal, neonatal and nutritional (CMNN) diseases in all ages of socio-demographic indexes, with faster-than-expected gains for many locations relative to those indexes, according to Lancet’s “Global Burden of Disease 2016 Study.”

A global shift toward deaths at older ages suggests success in reducing many causes of early death. Years of life lost (YLLs) have increased globally for causes such as diabetes mellitus or some neoplasms, and in some locations for causes such as drug use disorders and conflict and terrorism.

Increasing levels of YLLs might reflect outcomes from conditions that required high levels of care but for which effective treatments remain elusive, potentially lifting costs to health systems. The Global Burden of Disease 2016 Study provided an assessment of cause-specific mortality for 264 causes in 195 locations from 1980 to 2016.

Deaths from noncommunicable diseases represented 72.3% of all deaths in 2016, with 19.3% of deaths in that year occurring from CMNN diseases.

In 2016, the three leading global causes of death in children under five were lower respiratory infections, neonatal preterm birth complications and neonatal encephalopathy because of birth asphyxia and trauma.

Between 1990 and 2016, a shift toward deaths at older ages occurred, with a 178% increase in deaths in ages 90 and 94 years and a 210% increase in deaths older than age 95 years.

The 10 leading causes by rates of age-standardized YLL declined from 2006 to 2016; the median annualized rate of change for all other causes was a decrease of 1.59% over the same interval.

Globally, the leading causes of total YLLs in 2016 were cardiovascular diseases; diarrhea, lower respiratory infections and other common infectious diseases; neoplasms; neonatal disorders; and HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

Funding for the study was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.