Democracy Matters in Global Health

01 April 2019 Comments Off on Democracy Matters in Global Health

Assoc. Prof. Simon Wigley of the Department of Philosophy has published an article in The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, on the relationship between democracy and population health. The study represents the first comprehensive assessment of the links between democracy, adult health and disease-specific mortality in 170 nations, spanning 46 years.

Dr. Wigley and his coauthors found that adult life expectancy (at age 15) improved faster in countries that transitioned to democracy than in those that did not, increasing by an average of 3 percent after 10 years. In addition, they found that a nation’s democratic experience – a measure of how democratic a country has been and for how long – is more associated than is GDP with reductions in deaths from cardiovascular diseases, transportation injuries, cancers and other noncommunicable diseases. They estimate that between 1995 and 2015, increases in democratic experience averted 16 million deaths from cardiovascular diseases globally.

In contrast, there was no significant link between democracy and deaths from malaria, HIV and most other infectious diseases. This is important because deaths from stroke, breast cancer and other noncommunicable diseases are surging in many low- and middle-income nations, and will continue to grow. In addition, the global health community has focused almost exclusively on the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, leaving local governments to tackle the rapidly growing health burden due to noncommunicable diseases.

Dr. Wigley’s coauthors for this interdisciplinary study are from the Council on Foreign Relations, Stanford University’s Health Policy program and the University of Washington’s Institute for Heath Metrics and Evaluation.

The launch of the article was accompanied by an explainer in the Washington Post and an op-ed for CNN. The release of the study has been covered by the Guardian, Bloomberg, BBC World News and PBS as well as other international media outlets.

The article may be found at /article/PIIS0140-6736(19)30235-1/fulltext. A data visualization of the results of the study is available at; in addition, a panel discussion held at the Council on Foreign Relations for the launch of the article is available at