Report shows NCDs continue as main cause of death and disability

The content originally appeared on: Antigua News Room

A new report launched by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) reveals that while overall life expectancy has risen in the Americas, so has the number of people living with noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).

Rapid population aging has led to an increase in ill health and disabilities caused by noncommunicable diseases and injuries.

The report urges countries of the Americas to take action to address the challenges to health systems posed by the Region’s aging population.

The report, Leading causes of death and disease burden in the Americas: Noncommunicable diseases and external causes, analyzes the burden of diseases and mortality in the Americas from 2000 to 2019, focusing on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, respiratory diseases, and diabetes; mental and substance use disorders and neurological conditions, as well as unintentional and intentional injuries (or external causes).

The report found that the total number of deaths increased by 31% from 2000 to 2019 in the Americas – a larger percentage increase than in any other World Health Organization (WHO) region. Overall, NCDs dominated as the leading cause of death in the region, with a mortality rate of 412 per 100,000 in 2019 for women and men combined.

“NCDs and external causes remain a major challenge, not only to health systems, but also to the social and economic development of the Americas,” Dr. Anselm Hennis, Director of noncommunicable diseases and mental health at PAHO said.

“It is crucial that countries implement proven interventions to reduce risk factors, as well as strengthen the provision of quality care at the primary health level.” 

According to the report, the growth and rapid aging of the population in the Americas contributed to a 31% increase in the total number of deaths within the last two decades.

The region’s population also grew from 829 million to 1.01 billion.

During the same period, there was a 5-percentage point increase in the number of people aged 40-64 years and a 3-percentage point increase in those aged 65 and older.

This demographic shift could prove a challenge to unprepared health systems, and the report urges countries to prepare for a growing incidence of NCDs as populations live longer.

The percentage of deaths due to NCDs and external causes increased from 87% to 90% between 2000 and 2019, with the most significant increase in deaths due to mental and substance use disorders and neurological conditions (179%).

The report also notes that despite the increase in the absolute number of deaths, the mortality rate for NCDs and injuries decreased by 17.2% and 8%, respectively.

This has contributed to an increase in life expectancy and also in the number of people living with NCDs in the Region.

This report highlighted persisting disparities. The mortality rate for NCDs in the Latin Caribbean is approximately 1.5 times higher than in the Andean subregion.

Furthermore, throughout the Region, men experienced consistently higher rates of death and disability than women due to a greater burden of cardiovascular diseases and cancers, as well as high rates of interpersonal violence.

Women, however, were significantly more likely to experience intimate partner violence. When it comes to mental health, men were more likely to experience alcohol and drug use disorders, while women suffered higher rates of anxiety and depressive disorders.

PAHO continues to work to support countries of the Americas in the implementation of public health solutions, health systems innovations and political interventions to address the challenges posed by NCDs.

This includes the implementation of the Better Care for NCDs initiative which aims to strengthen health system capacity to plan and implement comprehensive quality NCD services at the primary health care level.  

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