Effects on world health and the economy
By Melvin J. Howard
Next week, the U.N. General Assembly will hold its first summit on chronic diseases cancer, diabetes and heart and lung disease. Those account for nearly two-thirds of deaths worldwide, or about 36 million. In the United States, they kill nearly 9 out of 10 people. They have common risk factors, such as smoking and sedentary lifestyles, and many are preventable. This is only the second time in the history of the UN that the General Assembly meets on a health issue (the last issue was AIDS). The aim is for countries to adopt a concise, action-oriented outcome document that will shape the global agendas for generations to come.
Non-Communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS and pandemic influenza attract a lot of attention, but the NCDs are more deadly, accounting for 63 percent of all deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The U.N. General Assembly will convene a special session on NCDs September 19–20 of this year in New York with the goal of adopting an action plan for the international health community to attack the problem. This session emerges from the growing realization that premature deaths from these health problems impede economic development. These diseases can entrench an individual or a family in poverty because of the inability to work or the cost of medical treatment. Expand those individual difficulties to a broader scale, and they can inhibit national economic progress. The global cost of NCDs from 2005 to 2030 is estimated at $35 trillion, according to a World Bank study.
Worldwide, stroke and heart-related diseases account for nearly half of all noninfectious disease deaths 17 million in 2008 alone, WHO says. Next is cancer (7.6 million deaths), followed by respiratory diseases such as emphysema (4.2 million). Diabetes caused 1.3 million deaths in 2008, but that’s misleading — most diabetics die of cardiovascular causes. The U.N. chose to focus on those four diseases and their common risk factors: tobacco use, alcohol abuse, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity and environmental carcinogens.
Europe and North America. Too much eating, too little exercise and smoking: heart disease and diabetes dominate. Cancers that are more prevalent with age breast and prostate reflect long life spans in these regions where treatment is widely available. In Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, lung cancer is the dominant cancer in men. Europe has the highest smoking prevalence in the world: 29 per cent. Asia. Southeast Asia has the lowest rates of obesity in the world, even lower than Africa. Yet in China, where only 6 per cent of the population is obese, nearly 4 in 10 people have high blood pressure. China also has three times the death rate from respiratory diseases as the United States. Many areas also have high rates of infection with HPV, a sexually spread virus that can cause cervical cancer. In India, the government has launched an aggressive diabetes and high blood pressure screening project. There are 51 million diabetics in India, the second-highest incidence in the world after China. Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer in India among men; in women, it’s cervical cancer. Central and South America. Cancer prevalence patterns largely resemble North America except that cervical cancer dominates among women in certain areas. Access to care is much poorer in many countries. Volunteers for the American Society of Clinical Oncology, told of conditions at a hospital in Honduras, where there are more than 700 new cancer cases every year for two oncologists to handle.