Many Countries Are Clustered In High Mortality Traps

Armen Hareyan's picture

Mortality Traps

Growing recognition of the importance of health as a contributing factor to economic development and societal change has prompted the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) to add a new subsection in Sustainable Health to its existing section on Sustainable Development. The inaugural subsection, posted online Oct. 3, 2007 includes an editorial by Barry R. Bloom, Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), describing this new dimension of the sustainable science field and summarizing the special section's four articles, among them Mortality Traps and the Dynamics of Health Transitions, in which Professors David Bloom and David Canning, from the Department of Population and International Health at HSPH, analyze global life expectancy data to show that most countries are clustered in high or low mortality groupings with little continuum of change between them.


The traditional view of health in the context of economic development sees robust macroeconomic performance leading to improvements in health. But that paradigm has broadened in recent years to include the view that, "health is also a significant contributing determinant of economic and social development," writes Dean Barry R. Bloom.

The new challenge for the international community, he continues, "goes beyond how to contribute to pilot programs in health that provide drugs, vaccines and preventive or health care services" to how to do so in a way that engages the local and national populations and enables the programs to expand to a nationwide scale that is sustainable over time.

[As defined by the UN Bruntland Commission: "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."]

Economists David E. Bloom and David Canning describe the discovery in life expectancy data of two clusters of countries, one of high mortality and the other low, that both progress toward improved life expectancy but lack a continuum of change between them. An examination of life expectancy in the early 1960s revealed one group of countries clustered around a life expectancy of 40 years and a second group clustered around a life expectancy of 65 years.