Checkup Time: Global Health Indicators (w/video)

Schoolchildren--all orphans--in Bukhara, Uzbekistan (1990).

Schoolchildren–all orphans–in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Healthcare in this former Soviet republic has changed drastically since 1990, when I shot this photo.

SNAP A RANDOM PHOTO of a crowd and you get a quick peek at  their health: Tall or stunted? Clear skin or mottled? Good teeth or bad? Obese or fit? Cigarettes or carrots dangling from their lips?  Every picture tells a story, but not the whole story. It’s just a snapshot, after all–a snapshot of health that’s as superficial as checking-you-out’ once-overs in a bar.


Here’s my video:

Video Lesson (1:35) – Checkup Time: Global Health Indicators

In global health, basic health indicators give a clearer picture, a deeper and more scientific measure of health in countries and in specific populations. Child mortality and life expectancy are perhaps the fastest way–a snapshot–to assess a country’s health; it’s not unlike checking a person’s pulse and blood pressure to size up an individual patient. But it goes deeper than that in global health, comprising these TOP HEALTH INDICATORS:

1. Infant mortality: Annual number of children less than one year old who die, per 1,000 live births. It’s a top-of-the-list health indicator, since newborns and infants are most fragile and vulnerable. Their survival reflects the infrastructure they’re born into: war, good health services, water, food, sanitation, etc. [Check out current infant mortality rates, by country, at this link.]

Making it to age five: one of the best health indicators for a country. (Samarkand, Uzbekistan. 2008)

They made it! Living to age 5 is one of the best health indicators for a country. (Samarkand, Uzbekistan. 2008)

 2. Under-five mortality (‘child survival’): Annual number of children who die from birth to age 5, per 1,000 live births. It’s a favorite indicator to assess health, because it truly reflects socioeconomic infrastructures for a baby to actually live to age 5. This includes mother-and-child access to health services; nutrient-rich and reliable food supply; access to clean water, sanitation; and a stable environment–living under a roof rather than, say, on the run or in a refugee camp during wartime. [Recent under-5 mortality rates, at this link.]

3. Life expectancy at birth (in years): Number of years a newborn is expected to live, given the current mortality risk for that age group in a specific population. In short, odds are you’ll live longer in stable, resource-rich Monaco (89 years) than in HIV-ridden, poverty-stricken South Africa (49 years). [Latest life expectancy rates, at this link.]

4. Disease occurence – prevalence and incidence: These are easy to confuse. ‘Incidence‘ is the number of new cases of a disease in a given population during a certain time period. ‘Prevalence’ is the proportion of a population that has a disease (old and new cases) at a certain point in time — i.e. HIV in Ethiopia, or flu in the U.S. Tip: ‘incidence x duration = prevalence.’ [More info on disease prevalence and incidence at this link.]

5. Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALY): This measures the morbidity and mortality–known as ‘disease burden’– in a country or specific population. ‘Early mortality’ is dying younger than your life expectancy because of illnesses like cancer or strokes, accidents, or war. ‘Morbidity‘ is disability or loss of normal function caused by injury or disease. For example, a broken leg or malaria may keep you from working or living life fully. [Learn more about DALY rates at this link.]

6. Maternal mortality: Number of deaths from pregnancy-related causes from ages 15-49, per 100,000 live births. 99% of maternal deaths are in developing countries. [Highly visual Gapminder presentation on maternal mortality at this link.]

OTHER HEALTH INDICATORS include: crude birth rate; crude death rate; and population growth rate. A fascinating, colorful picture of these health indicators and how they relate to wealth is on Gapminder, at this link. The World Mapper Project also offers a visual, global view of health indicators in comparison to other countries; I’ve used malaria deaths as an example.


 # # #

1. King County (Seattle) Community Health Indicator Project.
2. Health Indicators Warehouse, by National Center for Health Statistics.
3. Core Health Indicators, by World Health Organization (WHO).
4. Gapminder, created by Sweden’s Hans Rosling to visualize global health  hard-data stats in creative ways. (I LOVE this site.)
5. Worldmapper, 700 maps illustrating global health comparisons between countries, including health, wealth, poverty, disease, and education. (I LOVE this site.)


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