7 of top 10 killers pre-COVID-19 were non-communicable diseases: WHO

Heart disease has been the world's biggest cause of death for the last 20 years.

World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Picture: @WHO/Twitter

GENEVA - Non-communicable diseases accounted for seven of the top 10 causes of death before the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, with heart disease killing more people than ever before.

The WHO's Global Health Estimates report found that people were living longer lives in 2019 than in 2000 - but those extra years were not necessarily lived in good health.

The study, which examines trends over the last two decades in mortality and morbidity caused by diseases and injuries, showed that non-communicable diseases made up four of the top 10 causes of death back in 2000, rising to seven last year, before the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world.

The figures "clearly highlight the need for an intensified global focus on preventing and treating cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases, as well as tackling injuries", the WHO said in a statement.

Heart disease has been the world's biggest cause of death for the last 20 years.

"However, it is now killing more people than ever before," the WHO said, claiming nine million lives in 2019 - up by two million since 2000.

It represents 16% of total deaths from all causes.

More than half of those two million additional heart disease deaths were in the WHO's Western Pacific region. Meanwhile, the European region saw deaths fall by 15%.

LONGER LIVES

The estimates found that people were living longer lives in 2019 than in 2000 - but not necessarily in good health.

Global average life expectancy was more than 73 years in 2019, compared to nearly 67 in 2000.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "These new estimates are another reminder that we need to rapidly step up prevention, diagnosis and treatment of noncommunicable diseases.

"They highlight the urgency of drastically improving primary health care equitably and holistically. Strong primary health care is clearly the foundation on which everything rests, from combatting non-communicable diseases to managing a global pandemic."

COVID-19 has claimed more than 1.5 million lives so far, and people with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and respiratory conditions are at higher risk of complications on death due to the virus.

The next Global Health Estimates report will include an assessment of the pandemic's impact on mortality.

Download the EWN app to your iOS or Android device.