FRIDAY, Sept. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Heart disease. Cancer. Lung
All these scourges loom large as global killers and, unlike
infectious illnesses, all are largely preventable, experts say.
But the truth is that these "non-communicable diseases" (NCDs)
are now the leading cause of death worldwide by a wide margin.
That's why health experts and leaders from 193 nations plan to meet
next week at the United Nations in New York City to discuss
strategies to lower the death toll.
"This will be the first time that the U.N. has actually focused on the major killer of most people," said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, and a professor of oncology and epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta.
"We need this," he added. "We need a chronic disease movement. We need to drive attention toward overall health. Because cancer, for example, kills more people in the world than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined."
As analyzed in a new report issued this week by the World Health
Organization (WHO), non-infectious diseases are responsible for
roughly 36 million fatalities worldwide every year. The loss in
terms of life-years and productivity is staggering, since about 9
million of these deaths occur among men and women under the age of
According to Dr. Gordon Tomaselli, president of the American
Heart Association, "if current trends continue, well before the
middle of this century [non-communicable diseases] will be
responsible for more than three-quarters of the deaths around the
Heart disease currently accounts for the lion's share of these
deaths, with WHO saying that 48 percent of non-communicable disease
fatalities are attributable to cardiac illness. A little more than
one in five non-communicable disease deaths are due to cancer,
while respiratory illness is linked to slightly more than one in 10
fatalities. These are followed by diabetes, which claims the lives
of 3 percent of non-communicable disease patients.
Poorer countries are often hardest hit by such diseases, the
report noted, and by some measures their citizens bear a three
times greater risk for dying from a non-communicable disease before
the age of 60, compared with residents of richer nations.
"And the impact of the growing prevalence of non-communicable diseases is not only on the medical health, but the economic health of all nations, in direct care costs and that of lost productivity," Tomaselli said
Experts note that this health trend is occurring not only in
poorer nations but also in the developed world, which has hardly
proven immune to the ravages of non-communicable diseases.
The WHO report found, for example, that non-communicable
diseases account for 87 percent of
all deaths in the United States. Not coincidentally, the
United States is increasingly weighted down by an obesity epidemic,
a largely inactive population (with a 43 percent sedentary rate), a
16 percent smoking rate, and markedly rising blood pressure and
Solving problems like that are the U.N. summit's principle goal:
to identify those steps that countries can take to promote
healthful behaviors, blunting the impact of non-communicable
"This summit is a once-in-a-generation opportunity," the American Diabetes Association (ADA) said in a statement.
In fact, it's only the second time the U.N. has taken up a
health issue -- the first, in 2001, created the Global Fund to
Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
The ADA noted that non-communicable diseases share many
preventable risk factors, such as poor diet, insufficient exercise
habits, smoking and alcohol abuse.
The ADA said those attending the upcoming summit will be
shooting to achieve an ambitious but tangible goal: to curtail
unhealthful behaviors and shave 25 percent off the global death
rate from non-communicable diseases by 2025.
But Brawley emphasized that the U.N. effort to reach such goals
will aim to build on existing public health initiatives, rather
than usurp them.
"This is not a disease Olympics," he said. "And we are not in a competition. So the summit's aim is to focus the world on overall health. Not to the exclusion of infectious disease, but with the inclusion of non-infectious disease."
For more on non-communicable diseases, visit the
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