C&B Notes

Charting Human Mortality

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has compiled an easy-to-manipulate database that allows users to mine information and create graphics of the causes of death across a number of factors: age, sex, geographic location, time (i.e. trends), etc.  This type of information helps some public and private organizations focus their money and time where they can have the greatest impact globally.

And get this: Worldwide, about 40 percent of that toll results from disorders (shown in yellow above) that could be avoided with basic medications, clean water, and neonatal care.  As you read this, 3,000 young kids are dying from diarrhea that a few zinc tablets might have stopped.  Cost: 38 cents per life.   You might wish you hadn’t read that.  But it’s the kind of insight that policymakers and NGOs need in order to focus health resources where they can do the most good.  That’s why the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington created the massive database on which this graphic is based.  Known as the Global Burden of Disease, it quantifies the incidence and impact of every conceiv­able illness and injury.  Want to see your own odds of dying from gunshot or animal attack?  You can go to the GBD Compare website and find out.  But IHME doesn’t just tally up death rates, it estimates the years of life lost (YLLs) from all those deaths: A fatal pneumonia infection at age 3 erases many more future birthdays than a heart attack at 80.  Adding in years lived with disability, the database provides the most comprehensive measure we have of the burden of disease, in terms of lost human potential.  It’s not a pretty picture.

The database can be found here.