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Lack of death tolls hampers researchers

MEXICO CITY – Numerous countries can’t say how many of their citizens die every year or what kills them, a situation that undermines efforts to combat disease in the poorest corners of the globe, a top health official told an international gathering of government ministers and researchers Wednesday.

“This is the first building block to public health and it’s not being done in many countries,” World Health Organization Assistant Director General Tim Evans said at the conference, which is trying to focus attention on illnesses of the poor that account for half the world’s deaths.

The inability to count those who die around the globe every day is “the most offensive problem” the health community faces, Evans said.

During an interview on the sidelines of the meetings, Evans said just 66 of 192 WHO-member countries provide reasonable estimates of mortality rates within their borders. Far fewer provide full counts of yearly deaths.

In a WHO region comprising 46 African countries, just four nations provide reasonable estimates and only one has a complete death count. Of the 35 countries in the Americas, 14 have complete mortality tallies, while in Southeast Asia, not one country can provide a complete count.

A key goal of the Mexico City meetings is to develop plans for more effectively delivering existing technologies, vaccines and medications to people in developing countries.

In one of the most egregious examples of the problem, two-thirds of the estimated worldwide deaths of children under 5 are the result of treatable illnesses.

As of 2001, in Sub-Saharan Africa, 175 out of every 1,000 children died before reaching their fifth birthday. In war-torn countries, rates reached as high as 300 out of every 1,000 children, or 30 percent.


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