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Prevalence of deaths through substance abuse, mental health and road accidents differ by region

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This blog is part of a series using data from World Development Indicators to explore progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and their associated targets. The new Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals 2017, published in April 2017, and the SDG Dashboard provide in-depth analyses of all 17 goals.

Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030 – Good Health and Well-being - explores a myriad of causes of ill-health and mortality, and hopes to improve the lives of many through its targets. Two recent blogs by the authors have focused on health during pregnancy and childbirth, and the prevention of some communicable and non-communicable diseases.

This blog turns its attention to other factors that impact people: mental health, alcohol and tobacco, and road traffic injuries and deaths.

Suicide rates are falling gradually in many parts of the world

Mental health is a focus of target 3.4, alongside other non-communicable diseases. Suicide accounts for 8.2 percent of deaths among young adults ages 15-29 globally and is the second leading cause of death after road traffic injuries for that age group.[i] Suicide rates for all ages tend to be higher in Europe and Central Asia and in high-income countries. In middle- and low-income countries, there has been a decline in rates since 2000.

People in high-income countries drink more on average than other income groups.

Goal 3 includes in its agenda preventing and treating harmful use of alcohol (target 3.5). In 2012, 3.3 million deaths – 6 percent of deaths worldwide – were attributed to alcohol consumption, predominantly through injuries or noncommunicable diseases.[ii] Global consumption was 6.3 liters of pure alcohol per person ages 15 and older in 2015 equivalent to 3 liters of beer (4 percent alcohol) a week. Consumption was highest in Moldova at 17.4 liters of pure alcohol, followed by Belarus at 17.1 liters. But high-income countries drank, on average 9.3 liters - more than twice that of low- or lower-middle income countries.

Men are more likely to smoke than women

Goal 3 turns to the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in setting target 3.a, with the aim of reducing the number of people who smoke. Despite most regions seeing falls over the last fifteen years, smoking remains popular in many countries, especially among men. Nearly half of men in East Asia & Pacific smoke as do more than a third in Europe & Central Asia. Women smoke less than men in all regions. The only group to see a rise over the fifteen-year period was men in Sub-Saharan Africa, albeit only by 1.5 percentage points.

Sub-Saharan Africa report a higher rate of road deaths than elsewhere

Goal 3 recognizes that deaths through road traffic accidents are preventable, and sets an ambitious target of halving such deaths and injuries by 2020 (target 3.6). In 2015 the global average for deaths was 18 per 100,000 people, with Sub-Saharan Africa averaging 27. Of the top ten highest countries for road traffic deaths all but one (Venezuela) was in that region, with the highest being Zimbabwe at 45 deaths per 100,000 people.

Filling the data gaps

Systematically collecting health data is challenging. Even a basic indicator like under-five mortality requires two complete counts, of live births and child deaths by precise age, which are not always available. More complex data, such as cause of death, require even more detailed, complete, and correctly coded information. Civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems to record these life events remain weak in many countries. Only an estimated half or fewer deaths worldwide are registered with cause of death information. In some countries, a verbal autopsy (based on interviews with friends and family members) determines the probable cause of out-of facility deaths, but distinguishing among noncommunicable causes of death using this method remains a challenge[iii]. Effective monitoring of the Goal 3 targets will require greater investment in such data collection systems. Not only Goal 3, with 12 of the 17 SDGs requiring CRVS data for measuring their indicators, investments in CRVS will be an important step in achieving all SDGs[iv].

[i] World Health Organization. 2016. Global Health Estimates 2015: Deaths by Cause, Agen and Sex, by Country and by Region, 2000-2015. Geneva.
[ii] World Health Organization. 2014. Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2014. Geneva.
[ii] World Health Organization. 2016. Global Health Estimates 2015: Deaths by Cause, Agen and Sex, by Country and by Region, 2000-2015. Geneva.
[ii] World Health Organization. 2014. Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2014. Geneva.
[iii] World Health Organization. 2016. World Health Statistics 2016: Monitoring Health for the SDGs. Geneva.


Emi Suzuki

Demographer, Development Data Group, World Bank

Edie Purdie

Consultant, Development Data Group (DECDG), World Bank

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