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Potentially Avoidable Premature Mortality and the Health Targets of the Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3) is dedicated to ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages. Public health experts agree that universal health coverage is needed to reach this level of support for a country's citizens, and that a key part of that is reducing avoidable mortality.

The three SDG 3 indicators related to avoidable death explored in this chapter are:

  • Indicator SDG 3.1.1 - Maternal mortality ratio – selected because of its great weight in preventable under-five deaths;
  • Indicator SDG 3.2.2 - Neonatal mortality rate – selected because it is one of the most important indicators of health system performance;
  • Indicator SDG 3.4.1 - Unconditional probability of dying from cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, or chronic respiratory diseases – selected because of its important burden in terms of preventable deaths.

Maternal mortality is one of the key public health indicators for evaluating the performance of countries' health systems, because most maternal death can be prevented. Although the trend in maternal deaths in the Region of the Americas is declining, large differences between countries still exist. Health system action can reduce maternal mortality. Health interventions that have an added benefit of saving mothers' lives include: prenatal care on four or more occasions by trained health personnel; having births attended by skilled health personnel; quality postnatal care by skilled health personnel; and use of modern contraceptives.

The Region has reduced deaths in children under the age of five, primarily by improving environmental, sanitation, and economic circumstances, and by decreasing deaths from acute diarrheal diseases, respiratory infections, and nutritional deficiencies. However, neonatal deaths – in the first 28 days of life – remain a challenge.

The four most common chronic, noncommunicable diseases – cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes mellitus, and chronic respiratory diseases – are the leading causes of sickness and death in the adult population in the Americas. The four leading causes of premature death from noncommunicable diseases that are covered by the Sustainable Development Goals (Indicator SDG 3.4.1) are related to common risk factors. To reduce the prevalence of these risk factors in the Americas, each country must implement, finance, and maintain policies on tobacco control, healthy eating, harmful use of alcohol, insufficient physical activity, and response of services to management of noncommunicable diseases.

For more information on SDG indicator 3, please visit PAHO's SDG3 website