Checking Up on Health

International Monetary Fund
Published Date:
November 2004
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In most parts of the world, people are healthier and living longer, thanks to improved health services and living conditions and the more widespread use of immunization, antibiotics, and better contraceptives. Although this trend is likely to continue, hopes are fading in some regions where progress slowed or stopped in the 1990s, primarily as a result of the AIDS epidemic. Indeed, life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa declined from 50 to 46 years between 1990 and 2001. Moreover, most regions of the developing world will not, at the current pace, reach the Millennium Development Goals for health by 2015—including reducing child and maternal mortality and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases. Here, we give a snapshot of changes in the world’s health and demographic conditions, and, in the following pages, four articles explore the importance of good health for economic development.

Better health care has extended lives and . . .

lowered under-5 mortality rates worldwide.

This, in turn, has led to lower fertility rates. . .

and thus slower population growth rates.

Worldwide, youth dependency is falling steadily...

while elderly dependency is beginning to rise.

Source: The World Bank Group, World Development Indicators online at

People in developing countries suffer from far higher rates of infectious diseases than do people in the developed world. For example, about 99 percent of all the deaths from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria occur in developing countries. To finance a dramatic turnaround in the fight against these diseases, the UN Global Fund was created in 2001. AIDS, in particular, has ravaged populations in the developing world, and major childhood infections and maternal mortality continue to present formidable challenges. At the same time, noncommunicable diseases, such as heart disease and cancer, already pose huge and rapidly growing threats as populations continue to age. In 2001, over 13 million people in developing countries died of cardiovascular diseases alone. This figure is startling compared with the 7.9 million people who died of all causes in high-income countries. Tobacco, which is a major contributor to three main causes of death worldwide—heart disease and stroke; cancers, particularly lung cancer; and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—is already killing 2 million people a year in the developing world, and the number of tobacco-related deaths is expected to more than triple over the next quarter century.

Over 44.6 million people worldwide, most of them in Africa, are living with HIV/AIDS.

Sources: UNAIDS; and World Health Organization.

AIDS accounted for 2.2 million deaths in Africa in 2001, and life expectancy is falling.

Sources: The World Bank Group, World Development Indicators online; and Disease Control Priorities Project Working Paper Number 20, November 2003.

Tuberculosis killed 1.7 million people in 2000; most new infections occurred in low-income countries.

Source: World Health Organization.

Malaria was responsible for an estimated 1.1 million deaths in 2000, most of them in Africa.

Sources: World Health Organization; and the World Bank Group, World Development Indicators.

In poorer countries, noncommunicable diseases and injuries cause 63 percent of deaths.

Source: World Health Organization.

Tobacco-related deaths are expected to soar, especially in developing countries.

Source: World Health Organization.

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