The Lancet: Global Burden of Disease Study 2019 finds non-communicable diseases a new challenge to Iran’s health care

Published April 6, 2022



TEHRAN, April 6, 2022 – Despite severe international sanctions, the Iranian health care system has made significant achievements in controlling the burden of infectious diseases, but it faces health challenges and threats from non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular disease and diabetes, according to a systematic analysis published in The Lancet.

The study estimated the burden of infectious diseases and non-communicable diseases based on data from the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Study 2019 by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine as the most comprehensive, systematic, and concerted effort so far that reports life expectancy, mortality, and disability due to 369 causes and the burden attributable to 87 risk factors at the national and subnational level in Iran from 1990 to 2019.

Read the study

According to IHME’s collaborators at Tehran University of Medical Sciences (TUMS) and Iran University of Medical Sciences, the report helps Iran guide health system policies toward better prioritization in favor of serious challenges in the field of NCDs, emerging diseases, as well as reducing inequalities in the distribution of health indicators.

“The findings indicate life expectancy (LE) has improved significantly, increasing from 69 years in 1991 to 78 years in 2019,” said Professor Reza Malekzadeh, Distinguished Professor at TUMS and senior author of the study. “Some of the factors that led to the increase over the last three decades were control and decline of infectious diseases and death rates due to these diseases, reduction of injuries and intentional injuries, and reduction of maternal and neonatal diseases.”

Iran now faces several health threats, including a decline in the fertility rate, neglect of strong disease burden control, and an increase in deaths due to NCDs. In 2019, more than 326,000 Iranians died from NCDs, which is an increase of 88% compared to three decades ago. Ischemic heart disease was the leading cause responsible for age-standardized disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), followed by stroke, diabetes, low back pain, and depressive disorders. However, the largest 30-year change was in diabetes, which had a nearly two-fold increase. In addition, cancer is a growing concern.

“The age-standardized death rate due to cancer in Iran also showed a mixed, fluctuating pattern. According to the findings, cancers of the stomach, lung, colon, and prostate are in the top ranks of cancer deaths in 2019,” said Professor Mohsen Naghavi at IHME and first author of the study.

Iran’s health system has also been affected by international sanctions over the past 30 years. The 2011 sanctions have had the greatest impact on the health of Iranians, especially deaths from NCDs, and particularly cancers due to reduced access to advanced drug interventions.

Researchers in the study also emphasize that the Iranian health care system, in addition to better managing current challenges and reducing inequalities in health development indicators, should be more prepared to face emerging and epidemic diseases such as COVID-19.

This paper is the result of contributions from over 317 authors with expertise in health issues across Iran, particularly those by senior researchers at the following institutions:

Read more from Collaborators in Iran» TUMS Briefing Document: Three Decades of Performance of the Iranian Health System

Media contact

Iran GBD Collaborators: [email protected]

IHME: [email protected]