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Health Risks in the Future

November 2006 - The 1990 Global Burden of Disease study carried out by researchers at Harvard University and the World Health Organization (WHO) provided the first comprehensive global estimates of death and illness by age, sex, and region. Sponsored by the World Bank, it also provided projections of the global burden of disease and mortality up to 2020. This work has proved crucial in national and international health policy planning. Colin Mathers and Dejan Locar from the World Health Organization, Geneva have now updated the projections based on 2002 data and published their results in the international open-access journal PLoS Medicine.

As in the previous report, the researchers used projections of socio-economic development to model future patterns of mortality and illness for three different scenarios: baseline, pessimistic (assuming a slower rate of socio-economic development), and optimistic (assuming a faster rate of growth).

Mathers and Locar predict that between 2002 and 2030 under all three scenarios life expectancy will increase around the world, fewer children under the age of 5 years will die, and the proportion of people dying from non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and cancer will increase. Although deaths from infectious diseases will decrease overall, HIV/AIDS deaths will continue to increase. Despite this, 50 per cent more people are predicted to die of tobacco-related disease than of HIV/AIDS in 2015. By 2030, the three leading causes of illness will be HIV/AIDS, depression, and ischemic heart disease in the baseline and pessimistic scenarios. In the optimistic scenario, road-traffic accidents (which increase with socio-economic development) will replace heart disease as the number three killer.

In an accompanying editorial, the PLoS Medicine editors ask whether they are publishing 'the right stuff', i.e. research and commentary whose goal is to reduce mortality and suffering from the most relevant conditions - and whether research funding and health expenditure are consistent with these results.

Citation: Mathers CD, Loncar D (2006) Projections of global mortality and burden of disease from 2002 to 2030. PLoS Med 3(11): e442.

Citation: The PLoS Medicine Editors (2006) Are we publishing 'the right stuff' " PLoS Med 3(11): e512. https://dx/

About PLoS Medicine

PLoS Medicine is an open access, freely available international medical journal. It publishes original research that enhances our understanding of human health and disease, together with commentary and analysis of important global health issues. For more information, visit

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