Representational image.

Around 56 million people died across the globe in 2017 from both communicable and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

A study titled, ‘‘Global, regional, and national age-sex-specific mortality for 282 causes of death in 195 countries and territories, 1980–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017” published in 2018 in the medical journal The Lancet  revealed this.

It revealed a numbers of medical data pertaining to causes of death and diseases worldwide.

This study has also pointed out that non-communicable diseases not only dominate mortality figures at a global level, but also account for the majority of deaths in high-income countries.

In contrast to death caused by NCDs globally, infectious disease, malnutrition, nutritional deficiencies, neonatal and maternal deaths are common – and in some cases dominant – across low- and middle-income nations.

In Kenya, for example, the major cause of death remains diarrheal diseases. In South Africa and Botswana, the leading cause of death is HIV/AIDS. In high-income countries, however, the share of deaths caused by these, is very low.

According to the data published by the Institute of Health Matrics and Evaluation, the causes of death in the year 2017 and death numbers for each cause are as follow:

Cardiovascular diseases 17.79 million; Cancers 9.56 million; Respiratory diseases 3.91 million; Lower respiratory infections 2.56 million; Dementia 2.51 million; Digestive diseases 2.38 million; Neonatal disorders 1.78 million; Diarrheal diseases 1.57 million; Diabetes 1.37 million; Liver diseases 1.32 million; Road injuries 1.24 million; Kidney disease 1.23 million; Tuberculosis 1.18 million; HIV/AIDS 954,492; Suicide 793,823; Malaria 619,827; Homicide 405,346 ; Parkinson disease 340,639; Drowning 295,210; Meningitis 288,021; Nutritional deficiencies 269,997; Protein-energy malnutrition 231,771; Maternal disorders 193,639; Alcohol use disorders 184,934; Drug use disorders 166,613 ; Conflict 129,720; Hepatitis 126,391; Fire 120,632; Poisonings 72,371; Heat (hot and cold exposure) 53,350; Terrorism 26,445; Natural disasters 9,603.

If we observe the data regarding the causes of death in the year 2016 than we perceive the notion that  out of 56.9 million deaths worldwide in 2016, more than half (54%) were due to top ten causes that includes heart disease, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Cancer, Diabetes, Lower respiratory infections, HIV/AIDS etc..

Ischaemic heart disease and stroke are the world’s biggest killers, accounting for a combined 15.2 million deaths in 2016. These diseases have remained the leading causes of death globally in the last 15 years.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease claimed 3.0 million lives in 2016, while lung cancer (along with trachea and bronchus cancers) caused 1.7 million deaths. Diabetes killed 1.6 million people in 2016, up from less than 1 million in 2000.

Deaths due to dementias more than doubled between 2000 and 2016, making it the 5th leading cause of global deaths in 2016 compared to 14th in 2000. Lower respiratory infections remained the most deadly communicable disease, causing 3.0 million deaths worldwide in 2016.

The death rate from diarrhoeal diseases decreased by almost 1 million between 2000 and 2016, but still caused 1.4 million deaths in 2016.

Similarly, the number of tuberculosis deaths decreased during the same period, but is still among the top 10 causes with a death toll of 1.3 million.

HIV/AIDS is no longer among the world’s top 10 causes of death, having killed 1.0 million people in 2016 compared with 1.5 million in 2000. (Source:

In India around 64, 26,595 person died in the year 2017 out of which 14.11 lakh deaths were medically certified. In that year respiratory diseases killed nearly 1.29 lakh.

The death statistics and the causes of such deaths are as follow:

Prenatal conditions:445000; Hepataitis:75000; Tuberculosis:375000; Respiratory infections:342000; Malaria:185000; Diarrhoea:519000; Fever of unknown origin:339000; Cancers:544000: Meningitis and encephalistis:49000; Other infections and parasitic:123000; Ischaemic heart disease:1554000; Stroke:656000: Digestive disorders:145000, Renal failure:190000; Liver and alcohol related conditions:273000; Chronic respiratory diseases:833000; Diabetes and other conditions:228000; Nutritional deficiencies:73000 etc (Source:

Apart from these non-communicable diseases the whole globe has witnessed a good number of disastrous epidemics since time immemorial that ravaged humanity, sometimes changing the course of history and the order of the civilization.

Among them the most devastated was the Black Death (1346-1353AD) that transmitted throughout Asia, Europe and North America and wiped out over half of Europe’s population.

It has been said that because of the fatality of 75 million to 200 million people in Europe, labour became harder to find and eventually it resulted the end of Europe’s system of serfdom.

As a result of the rapid decreases in number of workers of due to this epidemic, the surviving workers had better access to bargain for their wages which again contributed to technological innovation.

After this catastrophic human fatality some of the major epidemic that this globe has witnessed are- Cocoliztli epidemic (1545-1548 ), American Plagues: 16th century, Great Plague of London (1665-1666), Great Plague of Marseille (1720-1723), Russian plague (1770-1772), Flu pandemic (1889-1890), American polio epidemic (1916), Spanish Flu (1918-1920), Asian Flu (1957-1958) ,H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic (2009-2010) and West African Ebola epidemic (2014-2016) etc.

While the Covid 19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the globe and death toll crosses 2 lakh mark, we are trying to compare the above mentioned death statistics with the present fatality.

To understand the catastrophic impact of the present pandemic we must also realize that unlike the previous epidemics, this time the human race is countering with such a virus that does not care about prosperity of a nation or bothers about the financial status of an individual.

For the first time in the human history this invisible and ubiquitous virus has taught a lesson that whatever power human may have, it could not subjugated every living being of this world. The recent invasion of a virus against human has proved this once again.

Kishor Kumar Kalita

Kishor Kumar Kalita is a commentator based in Guwahati and can be reached at