Infant deaths fell across the world during the first decade of the century, dropping twice as fast as they did in the 1990s, partly thanks to higher spending, said the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The health body said there had been an equally impressive rate of decline in the number of women dying from complications in pregnancy and childbirth and a rise in the average life expectancy to 68 years in 2009, up from 64 years in 1990.
But the world's health services were still weighed down with the "double burden" of infectious ailments and lifestyle diseases, like heart conditions, it added in its latest annual World Health Statistics Report.
"Much more has been done after the year 2000 and it's paying off," the WHO's health statistics director Ties Boerma said.
High spending on healthcare
He linked the progress to higher spending on health care, immunisation programmes, education and other factors.
"It's a combination of health intervention and social and economic improvement," he said. The report called for still more funding for health services, particularly in poorer countries.
It estimated per capita health spending in low-income countries at $32 (about R224) or about 5.4% of gross domestic product, against $4,590 (about R32,000) or about 11% of GDP in high income countries.
The WHO found child mortality had dropped by 2.7% per year since 2000, twice the rate of decline seen in the 1990s. Deaths among children less than five years old fell to 8.1 million in 2009, from 12.4 million in 1990, according to the statistics.
The number of women dying from complications in pregnancy and childbirth fell by 3.3% a year since 2000, compared with a decrease of 2% during the 1990s, it added.
Chronic illnesses still a danger
Chronic illnesses like cancer, heart disease and diabetes have reached global epidemic proportions and cause more deaths than all other diseases combined, the WHO said.
The conditions are exacerbated by tobacco use, obesity and other risk factors, it added.
About four in 10 men and one in 11 women smoke while about one in eight adults is obese, according to the statistics in the latest report, to be presented to health ministers from WHO's 193 member states who are meeting later this month.
(Reuters Health, Barbara Lewis, May 2011)
Sudden infant death syndrome