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Surprising And Sobering: 7 Facts About Global Health

Fishermen in Papua New Guinea, living on their boats, wait for the tide to change before going out to fish. Tuberculosis is a major health threat in the Pacific Ocean nation.
Jason South/The AGE
Fairfax Media via Getty Images
Fishermen in Papua New Guinea, living on their boats, wait for the tide to change before going out to fish. Tuberculosis is a major health threat in the Pacific Ocean nation.

When 1,700 specialists in global health descended upon Washington, D.C., this past weekend, they brought suitcases full of data and experience.

The Consortium of Universities for Global Health conference offered marathon sessions that covered everything from noncommunicable diseases and breast-feeding to climate science and injury prevention.

We edit a daily email newsletter, Global Health NOW. But we found out there's still a lot to learn about our field. Here are some of the facts and figures that made an impression on us.

  • Infectious diseases remain big killers. They are responsible for nearly 9 million deaths a year, about 16 percent of the world's roughly 56 million annual total deaths, according to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
  • But there are other significant — and sometimes overlooked — causes of death. Injury and violence are among the less appreciated issues in global health, despite the fact that they account for more than 5 million deaths every year, said Adnan A. Hyder, director of the International Injury Research Unit at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. (Full disclosure: Our newsletter is published by the Bloomberg school.)
  • Heart disease is falling and rising. The heart disease death rate in the United States has fallen by 70 percent since the mid-20th century thanks to a better understanding of the disease's causes and ways to prevent it, said Gary H. Gibbons, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (although it still kills 375,000 Americans per year). Yet in developing countries, things are moving in the opposite direction. From 1990 to 2020, coronary heart disease is expected to increase by 120 percent for women and 137 percent for men, according to estimates in a Columbia University report.
  • Global health is largely a man's world. Among World Health Organization member states, only 28 percent of top health officials are female.
  • Impacts of climate change are causing unlikely health problems: Rising sea temperatures have meant that the vibrio cholerae bacteria, which can cause cholera, is able to exist in shellfish in Alaska and is causing wound infections among fishermen and others, said Juli Trtanj, a NOAA climate and health researcher.
  • In some countries, rates of spousal violence are notably higher than the world average. The World Health Organization has reported that 35.6 percent of women have been subjected to physical or sexual violence. In Mozambique, the percentage is more than half of women, said Ana Baptista, who works for Jhpiego in the country.
  • History shows that predictions about health-related matters aren't easy to make. In the late 19th century, horses in New York City dropped 50,000 tons of manure every month onto streets plagued by flies and congestion, said Bruce Friedrich, executive director of The Good Food Institute. Experts considered the problem impossible to solve. Then Henry Ford introduced the Model T.
  • Brian W. Simpson and Dayna Kerecman Myers edit Global Health NOW, an initiative of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Brian W. Simpson
    Dayna Kerecman Myers