Expert talk

Democracy matters in global health

Democracy has played little role in the recent history of global health, but new research shows democracy is becoming more important as the health needs of low- and middle-income nations shift from infectious diseases to noncommunicable diseases.  Mr. Bollyky will present the findings of the first comprehensive assessment of the links between democracy, adult life expectancy, and cause-specific mortality in 170 countries between 1970 and 2016.


Some of the major findings of the research include:
  • Adult life expectancy (at age 15) improved faster in countries that transitioned to democracy compared to those that did not—increasing by an average of 3% after 10 years.
  • A nation’s democratic experience—a measure of how democratic a country has been and for how long—is more associated than GDP with the reductions in deaths in a country from cardiovascular diseases, transportation injuries, cancers, and other noncommunicable diseases.
  • Between 1995 and 2015, we estimate that 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.
  • Increases in democratic experience are not correlated with GDP per capita but are linked to fewer deaths from cardiovascular disease and more government health spending.
  • Without free and fair elections, the health benefits of democracy cease to be statistically significant—they effectively disappear.  

Admission: 16:30 - 17:00
Presentation: 17:00 - 18:15
Reception: 18:15 - 19:30


  • Dr Peter Fischer-Bollin, Deputy Head of the Department for European and International Cooperation, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Berlin, Germany
  • Prof Ilona Kickbusch, Director, Global Health Programme, Graduate Institute, Geneva, Switzerland


Thomas J. Bollyky is the Director of the Global Health Program, Council on Foreign Relations, Washington D.C., USA

Bio: Thomas J. Bollyky is the Director of the Global Health Program and Senior Fellow for Global Health, Economics, and Development at the Council on Foreign Relations, an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University, and the author of the recent book, Plagues and the Paradox of Progress: Why the World is Getting Healthier in Worrisome Ways.

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Akademie der Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e.V.
Tiergartenstraße 35,
10785 Berlin