Assessing Global Health in Four Key Diseases

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Demographics, Policy & Politics

While reporting on South Korea’s high suicide mortality rate recently, I discovered an unique data set maintained by the World Health Organization.

It contains the probability that residents in each country will die from four noncommunicable diseases between the ages of 30 and 70. These are diseases such as cancer, chronic respiratory illness, heart disease and diabetes. They can offer clues about a country’s overall health.

This type of illness are often caused by “modifiable risk factors”, according to the organization, such as tobacco use, alcohol abuse, unhealthy diet, obesity, high blood pressure, etc.

“This invisible epidemic is an under-appreciated cause of poverty and hinders the economic development of many countries,” according to a statement on the organization’s website. “The burden is growing — the number of people, families and communities afflicted is increasing.”

The probability ranges wildly by country and region. Papua New Guinea tops the list with a 36% probability that its residents will die before age 70 from one of these four diseases.

South Korea, which has the industrialized world’s highest suicide mortality rate, largely propelled by its elderly population, shares with Iceland the lowest probably rate: 8.3%.

The rate in the United States is 13.3%, below the global average from this study, which is 18.8%, but still wedged between Panama and Slovenia.

Here’s how the different regions (as classified by the organization) differ:

And here are the countries, separated by region and sorted by highest probability:

Image of the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva via Wikimedia Commons.

Map: Where Zika-Carrying Mosquitoes Might Appear in the United States

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Demographics, Weather

U.S. Health officials are investigating the possibility that the Zika virus could be spread through sex, The New York Times reports.

If confirmed, this development could seriously complicate efforts to control the spread of the disease, which health officials suspect causes birth defects in children whose mothers were infected during pregnancy.

The disease has spread in Brazil and other tropical climates, primarily through mosquito bites, including those by a species that thrives in the southern and western United States: aedes aegypti. It’s still winter in the United States, but some are readying for the day when the airborne pests move the disease north.

Still, experts believe a widespread outbreak across the United States is unlikely. They note that the mosquitoes only thrive in tropical areas, and that the prevalence of air conditioning, window screens and the expected abatement efforts by local governmental agencies will reduce their threat.

The mosquitoes’ habitat may seem small geographically compared the country as a whole, but it does includes about one in five American counties. They are home to roughly 80 million people, according to a Orkin Termite Control analysis of data released by the mapping company Esri and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The rough map below shows the species’ habitat (shaded in pink) and its respective counties’ population density (red dots represent 50,000 residents). The area includes roughly 29 million households — some of which, of course, will include pregnant women this summer.

Aedes Aegypti habitat in the United States.

Aedes Aegypti habitat in the United States. Credit: Matt Stiles/The Daily Viz.