The World Health Organization (WHO)’s 2019 Global Health Estimates report that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) now make up 7 of the top 10 causes of death. About half of all global deaths was due to NCDs.
This is a significant increase from 2000 when NCDs made up only 4 of the top 10 causes for deaths.

These new estimates are another reminder that we need to rapidly step up prevention, diagnosis and treatment of noncommunicable diseases,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, as per WHO website.

They highlight the urgency of drastically improving primary health care equitably and holistically. Strong primary health care is clearly the foundation on which everything rests, from combatting noncommunicable diseases to managing a global pandemic.”

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO

Top 10 causes for death

The top 10 causes for death globally according to WHO are as follows:

  1. Ischemic heart disease,
  2. Stroke,
  3. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,
  4. Lower respiratory infections,
  5. Neonatal conditions,
  6. Trachea, bronchus, lung cancers,
  7. Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias,
  8. Diarrheal diseases,
  9. Diabetes mellitus, and
  10. Kidney diseases.

The growing global NCD burden

Global deaths fueled by NCDs
The seven NCDs among the top 10 causes of death accounted for 24.4 million deaths, or 44% of all deaths globally, in 2019.

Heart disease has remained the leading cause for global death for two decades. The number of people dying now has increased from two million in 2000 to nine million in 2019 which is about 16% of all deaths. However, the European region has seen a 15% decrease in heart disease deaths.

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are now among the top 10 causes of death worldwide, ranking third in both the Americas and Europe in 2019. Women are disproportionally affected: globally, 65% of deaths from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are among women.

Deaths from diabetes increased by 70% globally between 2000 and 2019, with an 80% rise in deaths among males. In the Eastern Mediterranean, deaths from diabetes have more than doubled and represent the greatest percentage increase of all WHO regions.

Communicable diseases still a burden for LMICs

Globally, there is a decrease in deaths caused by communicable diseases. However for low and middle income countries communicable diseases remain a threat. Accordingly, six of the top ten causes of death in low-income countries are still communicable diseases, including malaria (6th), tuberculosis (8th) and HIV/AIDS (9th). Meanwhile, in recent years, WHO reports highlight an overall concerning slow-down or plateauing of progress against infectious diseases like HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.

Examples include the following:

  • HIV/AIDS dropped from the 8th leading cause of death in 2000 to the 19th in 2019, but remains the fourth leading cause of death in Africa. However, the number of deaths have fallen by about half comparative to 2000.
  • Tuberculosis is also no longer in the global top 10, falling from 7th place in 2000 to thirteenth in 2019. Yet, it remains among the top 10 causes of deaths in the African and South-East Asian regions, where it is the 8th and 5th leading cause respectively. 

100 million additional healthy life-years lost in 2019 compared to 2000

While people are living longer in 2019 than in 2000, an additional six years, only five of those years were lived healthily.

Heart disease, diabetes, stroke, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were collectively responsible for nearly 100 million additional healthy life-years lost in 2019 compared to 2000.

Injuries due to road traffic accidents are causing more disability. In the African region there was a 50% increase in both death and healthy life-years lost due to road traffic accidents.

In the Americas, there was a nearly threefold increase in deaths from drug use disorders between 2000 and 2019. This region is also the only one for which drug use disorder is a top 10 contributor to healthy life-years lost due to premature deaths and disability, while in all other regions, drug use does not make the top 25.

Alcohol prevention action to reduce the global death and disease burden

Science shows that alcohol use is one of the leading risk factors for NCDs, including for heart disease, stroke, cancer and many other conditions.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the inter-connectedness of NCDs and communicable diseases – for which alcohol also is a major risk factor. Those who have previous NCDs conditions were found to have an increased risk of death from COVID-19.

  1. Other communicable diseases have also been linked to alcohol use such as tuberculosis.
  2. Alcohol use is linked to more adverse effects from communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

Driving under the influence of alcohol remains one of the leading causes for road traffic accidents.

Considering the evidence, investing in alcohol prevention interventions in general and alcohol policy solutions in particular would significantly reduce the global and national burden of death and disease from multiple causes. NCDs prevention and control investment cases such as in Russia, Zambia and Armenia have found alcohol policy packages to be high-impact and cost-effective along with policy packages tackling other risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet and lack of physical exercise.

The WHO has developed the three best buy policies for alcohol policy development – increasing taxes, reducing alcohol availability and alcohol advertising bans – and the WHO SAFER package which governments can utilize for alcohol prevention. The implementation of the policy blueprint and specific interventions is scientifically unimpeachable and yields substantial returns on investment. A case example is Russia, which was one of the highest alcohol consuming countries twelve years ago. According to the WHO, total per capita alcohol consumption has been declining since 2003 in Russia and dropped by 43% until 2016 – with a 40% decline in recorded consumption and a 48% decline in unrecorded consumption. This was achieved after the government implemented the WHO-recommended alcohol policy solutions.

If governments are serious about preventing both avoidable death on a massive scale and better preparing the world for future pandemics, then they have to invest in the health of their citizens and promote healthy environments by tackling common risk factors – alcohol, tobacco, lack of physical activity, unhealthy diets and air pollution – and ensuring everyone who needs it has access to essential and lifesaving diagnosis, treatment and care,” said Katie Dain, CEO of the NCD Alliance, as per Health Policy Watch.

Katie Dain, CEO, NCD Alliance


WHO: “WHO reveals leading causes of death and disability worldwide: 2000-2019

The Guardian: “Heart disease, cancer and diabetes among biggest killers of 2019, says WHO

Health Policy Watch: “Noncommunicable Diseases Outweigh Infectious Disease As Top Causes of Death – A “Collective Failure”, Says NCD Alliance

WHO: “The top 10 causes of death

WHO: “Leading causes of death and disability – A visual summary of global and regional trends 2000-2019

WHO: “Global Health Estimates