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Author's profile photo Christine Susanne Mueller

3 Weeks to Davos: We Need to Know Why People Die

17 weeks to Davos. 17 global goals to achieve a sustainable future. 17 blog posts exploring the UN’s vision for humankind. Here is number 3.

Global Goal # 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

To improve people’s health and well-being, it’s imperative to understand why they die. In 2012, an estimated 56 million people died worldwide. The majority (68%) died from non-communicable diseases (NCD), with cardiovascular problems, strokes, cancers, diabetes, and chronic lung diseases listed as the leading causes. Roughly 13 million people succumbed to infections like tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, malaria, malnutrition, bad sanitation and hygiene, or poor maternal and neonatal conditions.

In high-income countries, almost 90% died from predominantly chronic non-communicable diseases, such as the ones listed above, plus dementia. Seven out of 10 of these people were older than 70. And in these more affluent countries, only one out of 100 children under the age of 15 passed away.

In contrast, infectious diseases, like lower respiratory infections, HIV/AIDS, diarrheal diseases, malaria, and tuberculosis, claimed the lives of roughly one third of the population in low-income countries. Four in every 10 deaths were among children under 15 years of age, mainly caused by complications of childbirth due to prematurity, birth asphyxia, and birth trauma.

Based on these differences, it’s clear to see that increasing the health or well-being of people around the world may require significantly different approaches regionally and locally. 

Fight the disease of poverty with education and simple technology

Significant progress was made over the past decades to reduce infant mortality, even though the millennium goal of a 67% reduction was not met. Pneumonia still is the leading cause of child mortality, claiming more than 900,000 lives of children under the age of five every year, particularly the case in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In fact, this disease claims more lives than the combined total of deaths from malaria, AIDS, and tuberculosis. In 2013 the World Health Organization and UNICEF launched the integrated Global Action Plan for Pneumonia and Diarrhoea (GAPPD) to address the root causes of these deadly scourges.

Poor living conditions, such as household air pollution and inadequate nutrition, amplify the risk of pneumonia, which can be called the disease of poverty. And even though preventative vaccines and curative medications are globally available at moderate costs, the access to these life-saving treatments remains limited, especially in remote communities. Since early pneumonia symptoms are similar to other illnesses like malaria or a regular flu, many children are misdiagnosed and receive incorrect treatment. An early and appropriate diagnosis, often available through local community health workers and low-level health facilities, could significantly increase the rate of infant survival.

The Malaria Consortium’s Pneumonia Diagnostics Project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, set out to identify and test simple and effective methods and technology to improve early infant pneumonia diagnosis. This project, which will end in early 2016, focuses on South Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Cambodia. Health workers involved in this research using an easy and accurate assessment of breathing rates and blood oxygen levels to support their diagnoses. And they are evaluating the combination of local educational training with simple and robust devices that enable early and correct diagnoses to initiate appropriate pneumonia treatment and save the lives of children under five.

Precision treatment for deadly diseases extends lives

Since the human genome was successfully analyzed roughly 10 years ago, biomedical and information technology advances are increasingly emerging, opening a wide field of innovation with the potential to disrupt the entire healthcare system. Diseases can now be understood at the genetic level, while prevention methods and treatments can be modeled and simulated at the molecular level. All of this accelerates the time to cure radically.

In early 2015, President Obama launched the Precision Medicine Initiative and allocated significant funds to boost research efforts that can revolutionize how to improve health and treat diseases. With this funding, new approaches are being developed that consider individual differences in people’s genes, environments, and lifestyles. This will ultimately lead to the ability to tailor personalized treatment plans, escaping the caveats of the traditional “one-size-fits-all- treatments” for the “average patient.”

The benefits of personalized precision treatments are many. They boost therapy success rates and increase the quality of the patient lives, while controlling health care costs with better, faster treatment and less waste on ineffective therapies. These kinds of advances can create a positive ripple effect on the economics of the entire healthcare system.

SAP is doing its part

SAP cares deeply about delivering insights and simplifying medicine to help diagnose, treat, cure – and ultimately prevent – diseases. It’s part of our vision and purpose, which is to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. As an example, our technology is effectively used to help address cancer diagnosis and treatment.

We also truly believe that our long-term success as a company is founded on a healthy work culture. For instance, we continually offer our employees health programs that can help our workforce balance and protect personal health and performance. 

We are committed to promoting healthy lives and well being – and we hope you are too.

This blog was originally published by Will Ritzrau and myself here on the Digitalist. To learn more about the 17 Global Goals and how you can help make the world a better place, follow the 17 Weeks to Davos blog series.

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