The World Health Statistics report released by the WHO is an essential resource for understanding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and assessing global health progress. This year’s report, based on the latest available data up to 2022, provides valuable insights into the challenges faced by the world in achieving health-related Sustainable Development Goals. It highlights the urgent need for collective action to address the ongoing health crisis and calls for substantial investments in health and health systems to get back on track towards achieving the SDGs.
COVID-19: A Cost in Lives and Health Progress
The report underlines the significant toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on global health. The World Health Statistics report reveals that between 2020 and 2021, COVID-19 resulted in a staggering loss of 336.8 million years of life worldwide. Each excess death equated to an average of 22 years of life lost, tragically cutting short the lives of millions of individuals. These numbers highlight the devastating impact of the pandemic and the profound consequences it has had on global health progress.
Positive Trends in Health Progress Before the Pandemic
Before the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world witnessed significant improvements in various health indicators. Maternal and child health showed remarkable progress, with a one-third reduction in maternal deaths and a one-half reduction in child deaths over the past two decades. The incidence of infectious diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis (TB), and malaria also declined, contributing to a decreased risk of premature deaths caused by noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and injuries. As a result, global life expectancy rose from 67 years in 2000 to 73 years in 2019.
Impact of COVID-19 on Health Progress
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted these positive trends and exacerbated existing disparities in access to healthcare and essential services. The report highlights the adverse effects on health indicators and the reversal of progress in certain areas. For instance, gains made in combating malaria and TB have been reversed, and fewer individuals have been able to receive treatment for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). The pandemic has also posed significant challenges in ensuring routine immunizations, financial protection, and access to high-quality healthcare services.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO, emphasizes the significance of the report, stating that non-communicable diseases have a profound and ever-increasing impact on lives, livelihoods, health systems, economies, and societies. He underscores the urgent need for substantial investments in health and health systems to overcome the setbacks caused by the pandemic and progress toward achieving the SDGs.
Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs): A Growing Threat
The report highlights the growing threat of noncommunicable diseases, which continue to claim a larger share of annual deaths worldwide. NCDs currently account for nearly three-quarters of all lives lost each year. If the current trend persists, NCDs are projected to contribute to approximately 86% of the estimated 90 million annual deaths by the mid-century. This projection reflects an alarming 90% increase in absolute numbers since 2019. Addressing NCDs is crucial to reducing the burden of disease and achieving the health-related SDGs.
Slowdown in Health Progress
Recent trends indicate a slowdown in the annual rate of reduction (ARR) for many health indicators. This poses a challenge in meeting the SDG targets within the specified timelines. For example, the global maternal mortality ratio must decline by 11.6% per year between 2021 and 2030 to meet the SDG target. However, the current reduction rate falls short of this target. Similarly, the net reduction in TB incidence from 2015 to 2021 was only one-fifth of the way towards achieving the milestone set by WHO’s End TB Strategy for 2025.
Despite efforts to reduce exposure to various health risks such as tobacco use, alcohol consumption, violence, unsafe water and sanitation, and child stunting, progress has been inadequate. Alarmingly, the prevalence of obesity is on the rise, and air pollution remains a significant risk factor. Access to essential health services has also slowed compared to the gains made before 2015. Additionally, there has been no significant progress in reducing financial hardships resulting from healthcare costs, hindering progress toward achieving Universal Health Coverage by 2030.
Dr. Samira Asma, WHO Assistant Director-General for Data, Analytics, and Delivery for Impact, emphasizes the non-linear and uncertain nature of progress, as highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It serves as a reminder that to stay on track toward the SDG agenda, decisive and collective action is crucial in delivering measurable impact in all countries.
Focus on Climate Change and Health
This year’s report introduces a dedicated section on climate change and its impact on health. Recognizing the growing relevance of this issue, the report emphasizes the importance of timely, reliable, and disaggregated data in tracking progress and shaping effective national and global health policies. Climate change poses significant threats to health, and addressing this challenge is essential for achieving the SDGs and ensuring a sustainable and healthy future for all.
The 2023 World Health Statistics report released by the WHO provides valuable insights into the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the current state of health progress worldwide. It highlights the urgent need for coordinated efforts to address the threats posed by noncommunicable diseases and climate change. The report serves as a wake-up call, emphasizing the importance of substantial investments in health and health systems to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. By taking decisive action, utilizing accurate data, and fostering collective responsibility, we can accelerate progress and create a healthier future for all.