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The Top 7 Diseases in the World

The Top 7 Diseases in the World

Common but deadly tops the list.

global-health postHow many people are sick in the world right now? What diseases do they get? The World Health Organization monitors diseases that occur on the planet, and the rankings help public health officials determine the right interventions, from prevention and environmental actions, to counseling and treatment.

The answer to ‘how many people are sick’ is a little problematic; you have to look at the difference between ‘incidence’ (the number of people who ever have a disease), and ‘prevalence’ (the number of people who are sick in a given instant). Also, public health agencies are less interested in headaches or common colds, since they rarely kill someone (but try telling that to someone with a raging migraine). But here’s the list:

1. Diarrhea
This disease dwarfs the incidence of any other, with 4.6 billion people affected each year. Surprisingly, half of the world’s diarrhea cases occur in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific.

2. Iron-deficient anemia
While rarely life-threatening, persistent anemia can be disabling to the 1.16 billion people who have it at any given time (prevalence, remember). Again, Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific have half of the world’s cases.

3. Pneumonia and other lower respiratory infections
Afflicting more than 400 million people annually. It’s considered the second-most ‘serious’ illness for every region of the world except for Africa (if you don’t consider anemia ‘serious.’

4. Mild hearing loss
Affects 360 million people worldwide, where those afflicted can’t hear below 41 decibels. Another 275 million suffer from acute hearing loss, which keeps them from hearing sounds below 26 decibels (together, this would put this disorder at number 2.

5. Migraine headache
Affecting 324 million people at any given time worldwide. Migraines are seen most in Asia and the Pacific, Europe and the Americas, and seen least in Africa (by almost a four to one margin compared to Asia).

6. Impaired vision Affects 272 people globally. This includes glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration. Rates in Asia and the Pacific are about three or four times higher than other regions.

7. Malaria
Afflicts 241 million people worldwide, often multiple times. A little more than 200 million of these people are in Africa.

Notice what’s not on the top list: heart disease, cancer, mental disorders, or diabetes (though diabetes is close to malaria with 220 million people affected). Also, while most people think public health involves developing countries, a lot of these also affect the industrialized world.

Source: WHO

Photo: California State University, San Marcos

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