Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Mapping mortality and health care priorities

Thanks to Paul L. Bergen for this.

Worldmapper tells us much, as Paul indicates, but I think we can take it further still.

The World Health Organisation increasingly talks about non-communicable disease control (such as here), as a major new public health priority ... indeed an epidemic that threatens to derail countries from their development goals.

A first glance at Worldmapper's page on causes of death supports this view to an extent, as it shows (using figures from 2002) that non-communicable diseases killed over 33,500,000, as opposed to nearly 18,500,000 deaths in the 'often preventable illness' category.

If you click on Deaths from non-communicable illnesses, the map will show the distribution of mortality from these diseases using land area to reflect populations affected. You can scroll through these conditions one by one by clicking on the 'next map' link to the right. They are concentrated in Europe and North America, i.e. developed countries but also noticeably featuring India. If you go to the Other preventable illnesses page and scroll through the following maps, you see a much larger concentration in Africa. (India is badly affected by these too.)  The exception is polio, which affects USA and Europe more than Africa.

The one crucial piece of information not supplied by this group of maps is the age of death. The maps giving this information list by gender as well as aggregate figures, from infancy to 100+. It is quite clear that if you start here and click on the 'next map' link till you get to age 100, Europe is starting to outstrip Africa by the time you reach the 45-to-49 age group, and by 64-to-69, Africa is skimpy.

It should be clear from this that non-communicable diseases are diseases of older people more than the other group of diseases. This is of course a very broad brush, and India seems to get the worst of both worlds. But there is certainly a pattern.

In Paul L. Bergen's words:
When the FCTC targets regions like Africa and asks (demands) that health resources be used for tobacco control operations, the money that would make a difference if applied toward malaria (or countless other endemic diseases …see more maps on the site), that would save many lives, is funnelled off into satisfying political aims with little effect on mortality.
 I would have thought it was obvious in any case that communicable diseases present a far bigger general health threat than non-communicable diseases. These maps show that communicable diseases kill the young and economically active, and this should be what concerns the World Health Organisation – not non-communicable diseases.

It would be nice to get more up-to-date figures on these maps!

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