The Global Burden of Diseases Study has been issued. The result of a formidable five-year effort funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, the study is a result of the work of 486 scientists from 302 institutions covering 20 age groups, 21 world regions, 67 risk factors, and 291 conditions. The results are published in the journal The Lancet and it is a fascinating portrait of the differences in health around the world.

While lives have gotten longer worldwide, long lives are often coupled with disability, as can be seen in the increased amount of musculoskeletal disorders and mental health problems.

In addition, as life expectancy improved throughout the world, there has been a rise in deaths attributed to chronic and non-communicable diseases. For example, the #1 and the #3 global killers are ischemic heart disease and stroke, respectively. Ischemic heart disease, in particular, is not simply a threat in high-income countries; it is the top killer in Central Europe, southern Latin America, Eastern Europe, tropical Latin America, and Central Asia, in addition to high-income North America. This rise can be attributed to the rise in salt and sugar in the diets of people in these parts of the world.

However, infectious disease and vaccine-preventable illnesses are still prevalent concerns in significant portions of the world. In eastern and southern sub-Saharan Africa, HIV/AIDS remains the top killer of the population. Every hour, 100 children die from illnesses like rotavirus, hepatitis B, and meningitis, all of which could be prevented by vaccines. Death during childbirth and pregnancy-related complications, as well as congenital disorders, still remains a grave concern.

In addition, while smoking-related illnesses have declined in much of the developed world, they have increased in developing countries as smoking becomes more prevalent there.

Perhaps the most interesting and telling findings are the non-health related ones, courtesy of Central Latin America and the Caribbean. In Central Latin America, the number one cause of death is interpersonal violence; though it goes largely unreported in the international media, El Salvador has the second-highest gun homicide rate per capita, at 56.4 per 100,000 people. In the Caribbean, the number one cause of death is forces of nature - sadly unsurprising for a region of the world battered by hurricanes on a yearly basis.

There is good news, however. Child mortality has declined in the past 10 years alone; in 1990, 11.9 million children died, while 7.7 million children passed away in 2010. Fewer people are dying from issues related to water and sanitation as well.

Happily, it seems that the information from this study will be used by many areas to make changes. "We know that dozens of countries have taken the methodology of the GBD and applied it to their own situation to better inform local health planning and policies." Alan Lopez, one of the lead researchers for the GBD, said to SciDevNet.

A visualization of the study's findings can be found here.