The Future of Death

How people will die in the year 2030.

By Jennifer Barone|Tuesday, March 20, 2007

HIV is expected to become the third-leading cause of death by 2030. Nations in Africa and South Asia will be especially hard hit.

By drawing on the World Bank’s projections of socioeconomic development over the next quarter century, researchers at the World Health Organization set out to forecast global trends in death and disease. Among the grim catalog of predictions is that the current top two killers—heart disease and stroke—will hold on to their rankings. By2030, however, HIV/AIDS will move up from its current ranking in fourth place to become the third-leading cause of death around the globe as well as the most common cause of debilitating illness.

One of the obvious consequences of increased development will be more deaths and injuries from traffic accidents, and tobacco-related deaths are also expected to surge, accounting for 10 percent of all fatalities by 2015.In fact, WHO estimates that 50 percent more people will die from illnesses due to tobacco use than from AIDS that year, although tobacco itself is not listed as a cause of death. Deaths from tobacco-related conditions will be split fairly evenly among cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and respiratory illnesses.

The report, which is the most comprehensive of its kind, does contain some bright spots. For example, it predicts that maternal deaths associated with pregnancy and childbirth will become less common, as will infant mortality and deaths from nutritional causes. Because of increased prosperity and better medical care, the risk of death for children younger than 5 is projected to decrease by more than 40 percent by 2030. The death rate from tuberculosis, malaria, and other non-HIV infectious diseases will also decline. And people all over the world will be living longer lives, with the largest gains occurring in Africa and South Asia.

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