WHO calls for global action on sepsis - cause of 1 in 5 deaths worldwide

Sept. 10, 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO)’s first global report on sepsis finds that the effort to tackle millions of deaths and disabilities due to sepsis is hampered by serious gaps in knowledge, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, according to a press release. Recent studies show sepsis kills 11 million people each year, many of them children, and it disables millions more.

But there is an urgent need for better data. Most published studies on sepsis have been conducted in hospitals and intensive care units in high-income countries, providing little evidence from the rest of the world. Furthermore, the use of different definitions of sepsis, diagnostic criteria and hospital discharge coding makes it difficult to develop a clear understanding of the true global burden of sepsis.

“The world must urgently step up efforts to improve data about sepsis so all countries can detect and treat this terrible condition in time,” says Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, WHO Director-General. “This means strengthening health information systems and ensuring access to rapid diagnostic tools, and quality care including safe and affordable medicines and vaccines.”

Sepsis occurs in response to an infection. When sepsis is not recognized early and managed promptly, it can lead to septic shock, multiple organ failure and death. Patients who are critically ill with severe COVID-19 and other infectious diseases are at higher risk of developing and dying from sepsis.

Even sepsis survivors are not out of danger: only half will completely recover, the rest will either die within one year or be burdened by long-term disabilities. Sepsis disproportionately affects vulnerable populations: newborns, pregnant women and people living in low-resource settings. Approximately 85 percent of sepsis cases and sepsis-related deaths occur in these settings.

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