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Potentially Avoidable Premature Mortality: What Is It and Why Is It Relevant?

In recent years, public health advances (e.g., antibiotics, vaccinations, improved hygiene, and improved access to quality health services) have helped to extend life expectancy in many parts of the Region and the world, but there are still many people dying prematurely. Despite a regional reduction in avoidable premature deaths, more than 2.5 million people in the Americas died prematurely in 2019, often from noncommunicable or chronic diseases, and external causes. These were deaths that could have been avoided if people had access to high-quality health care, or policies and actions for social and economic development had been adopted and put into action, especially those policies focusing on reducing inequality. The ability of these health services and policies to measurably reduce deaths and save lives makes them a good indicator for measuring the strength of a health system in a country.

  • Potentially avoidable premature deaths: These are deaths of people under 75 years of age that should not occur if all levels of care by health systems function properly (primary, secondary, tertiary prevention, and health care at all levels). The group of avoidable deaths considers two subgroups: (i) the so-called potentially preventable causes; and (ii) the so-called potentially treatable (or amenable) causes. In Spanish, the use of the term atendible is proposed, because treatable only refers to treatment and health care; however, amenable/atendible includes timely diagnosis, treatment, control, repair of damage, and prolongation of life with good quality.
  • Potentially preventable premature deaths: These are deaths of people under 75 years of age due to a cause that could have been prevented through primary prevention efforts. A death is considered preventable if, in the light of understanding its determinants of health at the time of death, all or most deaths from that cause could be prevented by public health interventions, in the broadest sense.
  • Potentially treatable premature deaths: These are deaths of people under 75 years of age due to a cause that should not have occurred if, in light of medical knowledge and technology at the time of death, it could have been avoided through timely and good-quality medical care.