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Researchers have linked national financial crises to deaths from heart attacks — and found that people in developing countries are at higher risk.

Scientists from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, and the University of California at Davis in the United States, looked at WHO data on death rates from cardiovascular disease between 1960 and 2002, and compared them with World Bank data on crises in the banking system.

A bank crisis is defined as an episode during which a significant proportion of a country's banks fail or exhaust their assets.

The analysis revealed that the proportion of banking crises in the developing world was higher than in industrialised countries, and that more heart attacks occurred in developing countries at the time of a bank crisis.

Deaths in the developing world were up to four times higher than those in developed countries, increasing by an average of 26 per cent in the year or first year of a crisis, compared with 6.4 per cent in developed countries.

David Stuckler, one of the researchers from Cambridge University says people in developing countries could be more vulnerable to the stress of banking because of their less robust banking systems. Crises may not be well handled, causing more stress to the population.

Weaker health systems and poorer general health could result in more fatal heart attacks in developing countries, he adds.

The researchers stress that some data — both for bank crises and deaths — from developing countries were missing, making the results less reliable.

"We're trying to put together long-term chronic-disease data, including cardiovascular and heart-disease data, over the period for more countries," Stuckler told SciDev.Net.

The elderly are the most vulnerable in all countries, says Stuckler, as their health is poorer and their economic wellbeing is likely to depend more on savings.

"Naturally, in some countries the consequences were worse than in others. Why that might be the case — that is, how some countries are able to decouple financial shocks from population health — remains an important topic for future research," he says.

Education about the health risk associated with financial distress could help people to guard themselves against such stress, Stuckler adds.

The study was published in the journal Globalization and Health.

Link to full article in Globalization and Health

Reference: Globalization and Health doi: 10.1186/1744 (2008)

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