20 May 2023 – Geneva – The World Health Organization (WHO) released the 2023 edition of its annual World Health Statistics report with new figures on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and the latest statistics on progress towards the health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The report with data up to 2022 underscores a stagnation of health progress on key health indicators in recent years compared with trends seen during 2000-2015. It also alerts us to the growing threat of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and climate change and calls for a coordinated and strengthened response.
COVID-19 cost in lost lives and health progress
The report documents updated statistics on the toll of the pandemic on global health, contributing to the ongoing decline in progress towards the SDGs. During 2020-2021, COVID-19 resulted in a staggering 336.8 million years of life lost globally. This equates to an average of 22 years of life lost for every excess death, abruptly and tragically cutting short the lives of millions of people.
Since 2000, we saw significant improvements in maternal and child health with deaths falling by one-third and one-half, respectively. The incidence of infectious diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria also declined, along with a lowered risk of premature deaths from NCDs and injuries. Together, these contributed to an increase in global life expectancy from 67 years in 2000 to 73 years in 2019.
However, the pandemic has put many health-related indicators further off-track and contributed to inequalities in access to high-quality health care, routine immunizations and financial protection. As a result, improving trends in malaria and TB have been reversed, and fewer people were treated for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
“The World Health Statistics is WHO’s annual check-up on the state of the world’s health. The report sends a stark message on the threat of noncommunicable diseases, which take an immense and increasing toll on lives, livelihoods, health systems, communities, economies and societies,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “The report calls for a substantial increase in investments in health and health systems to get back on track towards the Sustainable Development Goals.”
NCDs—an ever-increasing health threat for future generations
Despite overall health progress, the share of deaths caused annually by NCDs has grown consistently and is now claiming nearly three quarters of all lives lost each year.
If this trend continues, NCDs are projected to account for about 86% of the 90 million annual deaths by mid-century; consequently, 77 million of these will be due to NCDs – a nearly 90% increase in absolute numbers since 2019.
Stagnating progress calls for acceleration
More recent trends show signs of slowdown in the annual rate of reduction (ARR) for many indicators. For example, the global maternal mortality ratio needs to decline by 11.6% per year between 2021 and 2030 to meet the SDG target. Similarly, the net reduction in TB incidence from 2015 to 2021 was only one-fifth of the way to the 2025 milestone of WHO’s End TB Strategy.
Despite a reduction in exposure to many health risks – such as tobacco use, alcohol consumption, violence, unsafe water and sanitation, and child stunting – progress was inadequate and exposure to some risks such as air pollution remains high.
Alarmingly, the prevalence of obesity is rising with no immediate sign of reversal. Furthermore, expanded access to essential health services has slowed compared to pre-2015 gains, coupled with no significant progress in reducing financial hardship due to health-care costs. This drastically limits our ability to achieve Universal Health Coverage by 2030.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is an important reminder that progress is neither linear nor guaranteed,” warns Dr Samira Asma, WHO Assistant Director-General for Data, Analytics and Delivery for Impact. “To stay on track towards the 2030 SDG agenda, we must act decisively and collectively to deliver a measurable impact in all countries.”
This year’s report includes for the first time a dedicated section on climate change and health, and we anticipate that this will be of more relevance in the report going forward. For this issue and all other areas timely, reliable and disaggregated data are critical to track progress and improve national and global health policies.
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