The great* Iraq death toll debate: Putting war on the global health agenda | 

Editor’s note: *meaning not so great

It would look pretty odd – or outrageous – if medical research organizations, public health scientists, health advocacy organizations and others devoted to saving lives and preventing death decided not to try to determine how many people get killed every year from a select cause like, say, AIDS or heart disease or traffic accidents or drug abuse or any particular leading cause of death and disability.

Iraq Death Tollchart

Yet that is the standard approach when it comes to warfare.

Officially, the U.S. government and leading research organizations like the National Institutes of Health do not support studies aimed at determining how many people we kill – or can be predicted to die – when we enter into a military conflict.

“You’d think we’d want to know that, wouldn’t you?” said Amy Hagopian, a global health professor at the University of Washington.

Hagopian is lead author of a report this week in the scientific journal PLOS Medicine (Public Libarary of Science) that, through a number of analytical methods, estimated that nearly half a million Iraqis – men, women and children – died between 2003 and 2011 as a result of the war and its broader corrosive effects on infrastructure. Continue reading

Study: Malaria death toll nearly twice the official count, kills many adults | 

Flickr, ACJ1

A new global estimate of malaria deaths by researchers in Seattle has revealed the death toll is much greater than most experts had thought — and is not, as had been universally assumed, mostly a killer of children.

The study found more than 1.2 million people died from malaria in 2010, nearly twice the official estimate put out by the World Health Organization, and more than a third of the deaths were in adults.

The common wisdom has been that 99 percent of malaria deaths are in young children because adults develop immunity.

“This radically changes the picture,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, lead author of the study and director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

Continue reading

If 7 billion people are living on Earth, how many are dying? | 

Flickr, aldinegirl87

One of the big news items this week was that the global human population was expected to reach 7 billion with a baby born on Halloween, according to a gang of UN statisticians.

That was yesterday. Today is Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos in Mexico.

So let’s talk about dying.

No, this is not a Malthusian strategy for popluation control. What we will examine is  how death actually causes population growth — and how little we know about why people die.

This will lead us into a discussion about a technique known as “verbal autopsies,” which some Seattle scientists are working to refine, and a new phone app that could help reduce the global birth/death burden on the planet.

It is truly a killer app.

First, it needs to be said that we can’t really know when the global population will have precisely crossed the 7 billion person threshold. In fact, as the BBC notes, we may be off by many months — or even years — in either direction with this estimate.

Secondly, we are equally in the dark about how and why people die, about 50 million per year. Most countries around the world have very poor mortality statistics.

But one thing we do know for certain is that those countries with the highest mortality rates are also the countries with highest population growth.

Huh? Yes, you read that right. Continue reading