The top 10 causes of death
Why counting the dead matters
Measuring how many people die each year and why they have died is one of the most important means – along with gauging how various diseases and injuries are affecting the living – for assessing the effectiveness of a country’s health system. Having those numbers helps health authorities determine whether they are focussing on the right kinds of public health actions. A country where deaths from heart disease and diabetes rapidly rise over a period of a few years, for example, has a strong interest in starting a vigorous programme to encourage lifestyles that will help prevent these illnesses. Similarly, if a country recognizes that many children are dying of malaria, but only a small portion of the health budget is dedicated to providing effective treatment, an adjustment can be made.
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 widely acknowledged that progress in this realm is crucial for improving health and reducing preventable deaths in the developing world.