Over 5.2 billion people died in the 20th Century. Although the 20th Century ended a mere 13 years ago, from a statistics standpoint, we know we will probably die of different diseases (and other less natural causes) than our forebears. The causes of death evolve over time as medicine improves, science ameliorates risk, lifestyles change, environments shift, and politics reshape our world. British data journalist David McCandless (of Information is Beautiful) created this fascinating infographic based on a project, commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, a U.K. charity devoted to human health, called Death in the 20th Century, which shows us, graphically, the leading causes of mortality from 1900 to 2000, worldwide.
Some of the numbers are shocking. Humanity is the cause of nearly 1 billion (or just short of 20%) of the deaths in the 20th Century. These numbers include war, murders, religious intolerance, suicide, and other deadly crimes that humans perpetrate against one another. Maybe the 21st Century will knock that number down, though I doubt any of us are optimistic given the way this century has started.
But the most interest information is in the Infectious Disease section. Nearly 1.7 billion people have died from infectious diseases. Some of the more interesting numbers are:
- Diphtheria–0.76 million deaths
- Hepatitis B–12.7 million deaths
- Measles–96.7 million deaths
- Meningitis-21.9 million deaths
- Polio–0.13 million deaths
- Smallpox–400 million deaths (yes, 400 million)
- Tetanus–37.1 million deaths
- Whooping cough–38.1 million deaths
In the 21st Century, the numbers of deaths from these diseases will probably be in the few thousand worldwide. Why? Because of vaccines. Not better sanitation. Not better health care facilities. But because of vaccines.
And in the 21st Century, as more vaccines are developed and brought to market, many of these infectious diseases will be less of a problem.
Vaccines saves lives. Literally hundreds of millions of lives.