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Reducing Potentially Avoidable Premature Mortality in the Americas

Despite progress, potentially avoidable premature deaths were linked to 35% of deaths in the Region of the Americas in 2019.

  • The five leading causes of death in the Region in 2019 were: ischemic heart disease; interpersonal violence; diabetes mellitus; stroke; and respiratory cancers of the trachea, bronchus, and lungs. Many deaths from these conditions could have been prevented by earlier health interventions. Given the potential for saving lives by addressing avoidable and treatable premature causes of death, the Pan American Health Organization has implemented numerous plans and strategies to help countries improve the health of their people.

In 2019, more than two-thirds (68%) of avoidable premature deaths were attributed to chronic, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), a share that is expected to increase if trends continue. Most of those deaths are largely preventable and treatable by enabling health systems to respond more integrally, effectively, and equitably.

  • In response to this scenario, global and regional commitments have been made over the past 20 years to improve the profile of noncommunicable diseases and their risk factors on health, social protection, and economic development agendas.
  • Several of these commitments and initiatives are specific to each disease or its risk factors and present an in-depth road map to address the implementation of policies and interventions and health care response, such as:
    • the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control1;
    • the United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition2;
    • the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes3;
    • the Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol4;
    • the Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer as a Public Health Problem5;
    • the Comprehensive Implementation Plan on Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition6;
    • the Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018–20307;
    • the cardiovascular diseases initiative8;
    • the diabetes compact initiative9;
    • the initiative on childhood cancer10.

    The Plan of Action on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases provides the Global Monitoring Framework with 25 indicators, nine targets and a menu of cost-effective policies and interventions known as "best buys for NCDs."

    The four main NCD causes of death – cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes – are responsible for 66.5% of the premature avoidable deaths among those aged 30–69 years old.

    Many of these diseases share the same risk factors: tobacco use, unhealthy diet, insufficient physical activity, harmful use of alcohol, and air pollution. These, in turn, lead to other key biological risks, such as raised blood pressure, raised blood glucose, overweight, and obesity.


    1 World Health Organization. WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 2003. p. 36. Available at: https://www.who.int/fctc/text_download/en/

    2 World Health Organization. WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 2003. p. 36. Available at: https://www.who.int/fctc/text_download/en/

    3 World Health Organization. International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 1981. Available at: https://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/code_english.pdf

    4 World Health Organization. Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 2010. p. 44. Available at: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/205143/B4599.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

    5 World Health Organization. Global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 2020. Available at: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/336583/9789240014107-eng.pdf

    6 World Health Organization. Comprehensive implementation plan on maternal, infant and young child nutrition. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2014. Available at: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/WHO-NMH-NHD-14.1

    7 World Health Organization. Global action plan on physical activity 2018–2030: more active people for a healthier world. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 2018. Available at: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/272721/WHO-NMH-PND-18.5-eng.pdf

    8 World Health Organization. Hearts: technical package for cardiovascular disease management in primary health care. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 2016. Available at: https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/333221

    9 World Health Organization. Report of expert and stakeholder consultations on the WHO Global Diabetes Compact. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 2021. Available at: https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/340322

    10 World Health Organization. CureAll Framework: WHO Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer. WHO; 2018. Available at: https://cdn.who.int/media/docs/default-source/documents/health-topics/cancer/cureall-framework-who-global-initiative-for-childhood-cancer-pamphlet.pdf?sfvrsn=6e9c5b1b_8