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Premature deaths could be reduced by 40 per cent by 2030, researchers say

Toronto, September 19, 2014

Dr. Prabhat Jha
Dr. Prabhat Jha

A group of leading public health experts suggests that with targeted international efforts, countries around the world could reduce premature deaths by 40 per cent by 2030.

Such a reduction would cut the number of deaths among those 50 and younger in half and prevent one-third of deaths among those aged 50-69.

The findings, published today in The Lancet, reveal that child deaths fell by one-third worldwide between 2000 and 2010 from the diseases now controlled by vaccination – diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio and measles.

“This highlights what targeted international efforts can achieve,” said Dr. Prabhat Jha, a co-author of the paper and director of the Centre for Global Health Research of St. Michael’s Hospital.

Dr. Jha and his fellow international researchers said the reduction of child deaths was helped by a United Nation’s Millennium Development Goal to reduce child deaths by two-thirds. They similarly attribute a one-sixth drop in premature deaths among adults to the fifth and sixth Millennium Development Goals – to reduce maternal mortality (fifth) and to fight AIDS, malaria and other diseases (sixth).

“Death in old age is inevitable, but death before old age is not,” said co-author Sir Richard Peto, a professor of medical statistics at Oxford University. “The risk of premature death has been decreasing in recent decades in all major countries, except where the effects of HIV or political disturbances predominate. The risk will fall even faster over the next few decades if the new U.N. Sustainable Development Goals get the big causes of death taken even more seriously.”

The United Nations General Assembly at its meeting in New York this month is discussing 17 Sustainable Development Goals to replace the Millennium Development Goals that expire at the end of 2015. The new health goal is “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.”

The study’s 16 experts said the goal should be more specific, so that governments can be held accountable for achieving it. They have provided countries with a blueprint for a 40 per cent reduction in deaths – compared to their 2010 rates – before age 70.

“Our proposed targets are a two-thirds reduction in HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and child and maternal deaths and a one-third reduction in deaths from non-communicable diseases and injuries,” said Ole Norheim, lead author and professor of global public health at the University of Bergen in Norway. “For this, we are going to need improved health care, intensified international efforts to control communicable diseases and more effective prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases and injuries.”

The Lancet authors noted the route for achieving the 40 per cent reduction will be different in each country. Dr. Jha, who is also a professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, and Sir Richard were among the authors of a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine this year that said tripling cigarettes taxes worldwide would reduce the number of smokers by one third and prevent 200 million premature deaths from lung cancer and other diseases this century.

This study received funding from UK-MRC, NORAD, the Centre for Global Health Research and the Gates Foundation.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

Media contacts

For more information, or to arrange an interview with Dr. Jha, contact:

Leslie Shepherd
Manager, Media Strategy
416-864-6094
shepherdl@smh.ca