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Preventable Deaths Differ Dramatically Across Cities In Latin America

person getting vaccinated

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, August 9, 2021


A recent study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology found large differences in the number of deaths that could have been prevented through medical and health care across urban settings in the Latin America region.

This research from the Salud Urbana en América Latina (SALURBAL) project highlights pronounced variation in the rate of potentially preventable deaths across 363 cities in 9 countries of the region, from less than 400 potentially preventable deaths to more than 1,000 per 100,000 people.

Researchers found that across these cities, fewer women died of preventable causes than men (509.3 per 100,000 women compared to 843.6 per 100,000 men) and identified large differences between countries included in the study (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and El Salvador).

“Mortality rates varied so much in part because the countries have a different distribution of factors that cause disease as well as different access to early prevention and treatment. However, one of the most interesting findings is related to variations across cities within the same country. Our results indicate that the characteristics of the city such as population size, socioeconomic status, and spatial barriers may have a role in the occurrence of these potentially preventable deaths”, says Pricila Mullachery, lead investigator of the research.

Peru had the highest rate of deaths due to diseases that can be prevented through vaccines and other interventions. Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil had the highest rates of deaths that can be prevented through medical care for health conditions and chronic disease management. Argentina, Chile, and Panama had lower rates of preventable deaths overall.

 “Studies like this should motivate national governments to continue moving towards universal healthcare access. This evidence can guide local governments as they assess barriers that limit access to good quality healthcare in cities,” says Dr. Usama Bilal, senior researcher on this study and Co-Investigator of the SALURBAL project.

Cities with larger populations were more likely to have higher rates of vaccine-preventable deaths due to infectious disease, which could be linked to population size and density and the contagious nature of these diseases. Large cities with geographic sprawl and spatial separation between urban areas had higher rates of preventable deaths, perhaps indicating geographic barriers to healthcare. Cities with higher levels of education (which is linked with socioeconomic status) had lower levels of preventable deaths, which may be indicative of economic barriers to healthcare.

The insights produced by this research emphasize the importance of improving healthcare access and highlight potential barriers to healthcare in Latin American cities for policy intervention.

Urban Health in Latin America (SALURBAL) is a research project that studies how urban policies and city environments affect the health of Latin Americans. The results of this project will serve as a reference to inform future policies and interventions to make cities healthier, more equitable and environmentally sustainable throughout the world. SALURBAL is funded by the Wellcome Trust.

For more information, maps and graphs contact Andrea Bolinaga at