Non-Communicable Diseases

One of the major thematic focuses of this year’s UN General Assembly is on the rise of non-communicable diseases in the developing world. Long thought of as diseases only suffered in rich countries (we are talking about heart diseases, diabetes, respiratory illness, cancer) NCDs are becoming increasingly common in developing world countries. This is partly a success of economic development–over the last decade millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. But it is also a challenge for the international community. The fact that there are four oncologists in a country of 82 million people is problematic.

The World Health Organization released a first of its kind global snapshot of the toll that NCDs take worldwide this spring. It found: “Chronic diseases are diseases of long duration and generally slow progression. Chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, are by far the leading cause of mortality in the world, representing 63% of all deaths. Out of the 36 million people who died from chronic disease in 2008, 29% were under 60 and half were women.” The report also finds that the burden of suffering from NCDs is disproportionately felt by the developing world,which accounts for 80% of all NCD related mortality. Oh, and it should not come as a surprise, but tobacco use is one of the leading causes of  NCD-related mortality, killing some 6 million people a year.   (See also the WHO’s 10 Facts on NCDs)

The AP posted a nice curtain raiser on the issue as well.

“The timing is difficult with the economy the way it is, but it should not prevent us from setting goals,” said Dr. Sidney Smith, who heads the World Heart Federation, an umbrella group of more than 200 organizations focused on heart disease.

“Many of the things we’re proposing cost very little” and some, such as smoking cessation, even save money, said Smith, a cardiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “We’re not talking about trying to find a new magic bullet. We’re just talking about behavior and cost-effective medicines” like aspirin and generic blood pressure drugs that lower the risk of multiple diseases, he said.

And here is your full NCD summit agenda. Activities kick off on Monday.