- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Half of the world’s deaths are now recorded, the World Health Organization highlighted in its 2017 report on global health statistics, adding that accurate cause-of-death records better help the world body understand health trends and improve health access.

While last year’s report highlighted an increase in life expectancy across the 194 member nations — to an average of 71.4 years for babies born in 2015 — this year’s outstanding statistic seems a bit more morbid.

But more accurate cause-of-death record-keeping better helps world bodies assess health trends and identify areas requiring improvement.

Of the 56 million deaths in 2015, 27 million were registered with a cause of death, the WHO said in a statement.

“If countries don’t know what makes people get sick and die, it’s a lot harder to know what to do about it,” Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO assistant director-general for Health Systems and Innovation, said in a statement. “WHO is working with countries to strengthen health information systems and to enable them to better track progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The biggest improvement in recording cause-of-death, the report found, is in the Islamic Republic of Iran, with 90 percent of deaths recorded in 2015 compared to 5 percent in 1999.

The annual report was released Wednesday and includes new data on improvements toward universal health coverage, showing an increase of access to care between 2000 and 2015.

The report didn’t rank the most common cause of death across the world, but did highlight areas that remain major challenges in preventable deaths.

For example, despite improvements in maternal mortality, data from 2015 show that 830 women died every day due to complications with pregnancy or childbirth. The goal of the WHO is to reduce global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030.

The report also pointed out that 22 percent of worldwide births were not assisted by a trained midwife, doctor or nurse.

In the realm of communicable diseases, the report highlighted that tuberculosis remains a major global health problem — despite it being a treatable and curable disease, the authors wrote — with 10.4 million new TB cases and 1.4 million TB deaths in 2015.

Also, WHO estimates 1.3 million deaths globally are attributed to hepatitis — of which there is a vaccine for hepatitis A and B and more recently, a treatment regimen for hepatitis C.

WHO estimates that in 2015, 257 million people were living with hepatitis B and 71 million people were living with the hepatitis C virus.

Among non-communicable diseases, WHO highlighted the need to cut down on public tobacco use, with more than 1.1 billion people having smoked tobacco in 2015.

Ireland was highlighted as a success story in combating tobacco use by being the first country in 2004 to institute a nationwide ban on smoking in all enclosed public places and workplaces. Uruguay was also celebrated for having the “largest-in-the-world warning labels” on cigarette packs.

Reducing road traffic injuries is also a priority, of which 1.25 million people died from motor vehicle accidents in 2013, a 13 percent increase from 2000.

There was a marked decline in homicide between 2000 and 2015. In that year, there were an estimated 468,000 murders worldwide, an overwhelming majority of the victims male and the highest rate of murder in the America’s, with 32.9 homicide deaths per 100,000 people.

However, the report noted that increased health care costs threaten to “expose a household to financial hardship” — in each of 117 countries, an average of 9.3 percent of people spends more than 10 percent of their household budget on health care.

Other marked improvements include coverage of treatment for HIV, increased access to bed netting to prevent malaria, improved sanitation, and more access to health care for pregnant women.

The report also outlined goals for 2030, which included, among others, target goals to end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases. They also aim to decrease the number of cases of communicable disease such as hepatitis or water-borne diseases.

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