AIDS May Become No. 3 Cause of Death

But Tobacco Bigger Killer as Experts Predict World's Top Causes of Death, Disease in 2030

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 28, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 28, 2006 -- By 2030, AIDS may be the world's third leading cause of death.

That's according to World Health Organization (WHO) experts, including Colin Mathers, PhD.

WHO predicts the world's top 10 causes of death in 2030 will be:

  1. Heart disease
  2. Stroke
  4. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  5. Lower respiratory infections
  6. Lung cancer and cancer of the trachea (windpipe)
  7. Diabetes
  8. Road traffic accidents
  9. Perinatal conditions (deaths around the time of birth)
  10. Stomach cancer

The researchers also say the worlds' most common diseases in 2030 will be HIV/AIDS, depression, and heart disease.

Their report appears in Public Library of Science Medicine.

Predicted Trends

In the future, tobacco will likely be a bigger killer than HIV/AIDS, the researchers say.

"Tobacco is projected to kill 50% more people in 2015 than HIV/AIDS, and to be responsible for 10% of deaths globally," Mather's team writes.

The researchers also predict that from 2002 to 2030:

  • Global life expectancy will rise.
  • Women in Japan will have the greatest life expectancy: more than 88 years.
  • Kids' odds of dying by age 5 will drop by nearly half.

Certain infectious diseases (such as tuberculosis), malnutrition, and maternal and perinatal conditions will likely fall, according to the projections.

Mather's team also tweaked the forecasts based on countries' incomes.

They expect malaria and diarrhea to be among the leading causes of death in 2030 in low-income countries, but not high-income ones.

The researchers predict colon cancer, prostate cancer, and Alzheimer's disease will make the list of top causes of death in high-income countries, but not in low-income ones in 2030.

Study's Limits

Of course, no one can know the future, and the researchers admit their predictions may miss the mark.

For instance, they say HIV/AIDS might become the No. 4 cause of death -- not No. 3 -- if anti-HIV drugs become more widely available and if HIV prevention efforts succeed.

Also, economic development may affect death trends, note Mathers and colleagues.

For example, if cars become more common in low-income countries, traffic deaths may rise there.

A breakthrough disease treatment could also change the cause-of-death rankings.

Setting Policy

In an editorial, the journal's editors say the WHO report should "help set the agenda for policy and establish the priorities for research."

"But will it?" the editors ask. "Sadly, it is all too clear that the greatest needs are generally not those that receive the greatest attention."

The editorialists also note that "things could be much worse... [or] much better" than the projections.

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SOURCES: Mathers, C. Public Library of Science Medicine, November 2006; vol 3. The Public Library of Science Medicine Editors, Public Library of Science Medicine, November 2006; vol 3. Associated Press.

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