The Greatest Threats To Mankind

Lost Years

Charles Kenny urges us to focus on fighting disease:

The WHO data suggest that on the whole, all forms of violence are a minor cause of death—accounting for just 1.2 percent of all deaths worldwide in 2000 and 1.1 percent of all deaths in 2012. Kidney diseases, liver cancer, suicide, and unintentional falls each killed more people than violence against others in 2012. Heart disease and stroke each killed more than 10 times as many.

… The past 12 years suggests how rapidly we can make progress if we focus on the biggest causes of tragically premature deaths worldwide—first among which are infectious diseases. Measles alone killed 499,000 children under the age of five in 2000. That dropped by four-fifths, to just 101,000 children, in 2012. This success story is underappreciated. A Web search for news stories suggests 80 times the coverage of terrorism and terror than of measles. And doubtless that’s one factor why the U.S. has spent about $1.6 trillion on the global war on terror from 2001 to 2014 compared with less than one-thousandth that amount on rolling out vaccines worldwide through the Global Alliance for Vaccines & Immunizations.

With the above chart, Dylan Matthews illustrates “the leading cause of lost years of life by country”:

It’s worth stressing that “cause of lost years of life” and “cause of death” aren’t identical. For example, deaths from preterm births may cause more lost years of life in a country than deaths from heart disease even if heart disease is the leading cause of death. Deaths from preterm births amount to many decades of lost life, whereas heart disease tends to develop much later on.