According to the World Health Organization, tobacco use is a major cause of many of the world’s top killer diseases – including cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive lung disease and lung cancer. In total, tobacco use is responsible for the death of almost one in 10 adults worldwide. Smoking is often the hidden cause of the disease recorded as responsible for death.
If we look at the main differences between rich and poor countries with respect to causes of death:
In high-income countries more than two thirds of all people live beyond the age of 70 and predominantly die of chronic diseases: cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive lung disease, cancers, diabetes or dementia. Lung infection remains the only leading infectious cause of death.
In middle-income countries, nearly half of all people live to the age of 70 and chronic diseases are the major killers, just as they are in high-income countries. Unlike in high-income countries, however, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and road traffic accidents also are leading causes of death.
In low-income countries less than one in five of all people reach the age of 70, and more than a third of all deaths are among children under 15. People predominantly die of infectious diseases: lung infections, diarrhoeal diseases, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Complications of pregnancy and childbirth together continue to be leading causes of death, claiming the lives of both infants and mothers.
More than 8 million deaths in 2008 were among children under five years of age, and 99% of them were in low- and middle-income countries.
It is important to note that industrialized countries have systems in place for assessing causes of death in the population. Many developing countries do not have such systems, and the numbers of deaths from specific causes have to be estimated from incomplete data. It is certainly important to have systems in place for improving health and reducing preventable deaths in the developing world.
The top 10 causes of death by broad income group (2008)
|Low-income countries||Deaths in millions||% of deaths|
|Lower respiratory infections||1.05||11.3%|
|Ischaemic heart disease||0.57||6.1%|
|Stroke and other cerebrovascular disease||0.45||4.9%|
|Prematurity and low birth weight||0.30||3.2%|
|Birth asphyxia and birth trauma||0.27||2.9%|
|Middle-income countries||Deaths in millions||% of deaths|
|Ischaemic heart disease||5.27||13.7%|
|Stroke and other cerebrovascular disease||4.91||12.8%|
|Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease||2.79||7.2%|
|Lower respiratory infections||2.07||5.4%|
|Road traffic accidents||0.94||2.4%|
|Hypertensive heart disease||0.83||2.2%|
|High-income countries||Deaths in millions||% of deaths|
|Ischaemic heart disease||1.42||15.6%|
|Stroke and other cerebrovascular disease||0.79||8.7%|
|Trachea, bronchus, lung cancers||0.54||5.9%|
|Alzheimer and other dementias||0.37||4.1%|
|Lower respiratory infections||0.35||3.8%|
|Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease||0.32||3.5%|
|Colon and rectum cancers||0.30||3.3%|
|Hypertensive heart disease||0.21||2.3%|
|World||Deaths in millions||% of deaths|
|Ischaemic heart disease||7.25||12.8%|
|Stroke and other cerebrovascular disease||6.15||10.8%|
|Lower respiratory infections||3.46||6.1%|
|Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease||3.28||5.8%|
|Trachea, bronchus, lung cancers||1.39||2.4%|
|Road traffic accidents||1.21||2.1%|
The top 15 causes of death
15. Assault (homicide): 16,591 patients
14. Parkinson’s disease: 20,552
13. Essential hypertension and hypertensive renal disease (high blood pressure, kidney failure caused by high blood pressure): 25,651
12. Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis: 30, 444
11. Septicemia (systemic infection): 35,587