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By Lisa Schlein
Geneva
27 October 2008

A Young HIV positive orphan lies in his cot at the Nyumbani children home, a hospice for AIDS orphans in Nairobi, Kenya
A Young HIV positive child at a hospice for AIDS orphans in Nairobi, Kenya (file)
A World Health Organization study finds half of all deaths in Africa are children under 15, and people under age 60 account for half of all deaths around the world. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WHO headquarters in Geneva on the latest assessment of the Global Burden of Disease.


The World Health Organization reports 59 million people died in 2004, including 10 million children.

According to Colin Mathers, Coordinator for Epidemiology and Burden of Disease at WHO and lead author of the study, there are striking differences among regions.

"Africa stands out," said Mathers. The burden of disease, premature mortality is twice as high as for other developing regions in the world. And a substantial component of that burden is because of the high levels of child mortality in Africa compared to other regions. Half of all deaths in Africa are children under age 15 to compare with high income countries where one percent of deaths are children under 15 - a huge difference."

Mathers says four out of the top 10 causes of death globally are infectious diseases.

The report outlines the leading causes of death globally as heart disease, stroke, pneumonia, chronic respiratory disease, diarrhea, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

The study goes on to say that men between the ages of 15 and 60 have much higher risks of dying than women in the same age category in every region of the world. It notes this is mainly due to higher levels of heart disease and injuries, including those from violence and conflict.

While the Middle East comprises only eight percent of the world's population, the report says it accounts for 55 percent of the world's war deaths.

In Eastern Europe, the risk of death among men under age 60 is higher than in any other region apart from Africa. The study says these early deaths are largely due to cardiovascular diseases and injuries, although accidental poisoning from excess alcohol is a contributing cause.

Mathers says the report projects tobacco consumption will be responsible for 10 percent of deaths worldwide by 2030. But, he says, deaths from AIDS may decline.

"The update builds in the revisions to HIV mortality and more optimistic projections of HIV deaths that UNAIDED and WHO have produced which suggest that the epidemic may have peaked, or will peak in the next five years or so, and then AIDS deaths will start to decline," said Mathers.

The report predicts the proportion of deaths due to non-communicable diseases will rise from 60 percent to 75 percent by 2030. It calls this a sign of success and says people will be living longer. For that reason, they will increasingly be dying from cancers and heart disease rather than from infectious diseases at an earlier age.
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