Reporting of Global Vital Death Statistics Improving: WHO

Megan Brooks

May 17, 2017

Nearly half of all global deaths now have a recorded cause, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report released today.

Among the estimated 56 million people who died in 2015, 27 million were registered with a cause of death, according to WHO's "World Health Statistics 2017" report.  That compares with only about a third of global deaths that had a recorded cause in 2005.

This finding highlights improvements countries have made in collecting vital statistics and monitoring progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the WHO says.

Several countries have made significant strides toward strengthening the vital statistics data they collect, including China, Turkey, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, where 90% of deaths are now recorded with detailed cause-of-death information, compared with 5% in 1999, the report notes.

Some Countries Flying Blind

Yet despite an improvement in the quality of health data generated in recent years, many countries still do not routinely collect high-quality data to monitor health-related SDG indicators, the WHO says. 

"If countries don't know what makes people get sick and die, it's a lot harder to know what to do about it," Marie-Paule Kieny, PhD, WHO assistant director-general for health systems and innovation, said in a news release. "WHO is working with countries to strengthen health information systems and to enable them to better track progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals."

The WHO's 2017 report compiles data from the organization's 194 member states on 21 health and health-related SDG targets, providing a snapshot of both gains and threats to the health of the world's people, the WHO notes.

This year's report documents improvements since 2000 in several measures of essential health service coverage.  Coverage of treatment for HIV infection and bed nets to prevent malaria have increased the most since 2000.

Increases have also been seen in tuberculosis detection and treatment, access to antenatal care, and improved sanitation, while gains in routine child immunization coverage from 2000 to 2010 slowed somewhat between 2010 and 2015, the report notes.

And progress reducing global maternal deaths has been slow. In 2015, about 830 women died every day because of complications of pregnancy or childbirth. Reducing the maternal mortality ratio from 216 per 100,000 live births in 2015 to less than 70 per 100,000 by 2030 (the SDG target) will require more than tripling the average annual rate of decline between 1990 and 2015, the WHO says.

The new report also provides data on out-of-pocket costs for health services.  According to the most recent data from 117 countries, an average of 9.3% of people in each country spend more than 10% of their household budget on healthcare, "a level of spending that is likely to expose a household to financial hardship," the WHO says.

The full 116-page report is available online.

WHO World Health Statistics 2017. Published May 17, 2017. Full text

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