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World Health Officials Target Rising Deaths from Chronic Diseases


The World Health Organization says more than 380 million people will die in the next 10 years of chronic diseases that are easily prevented. Some 80 percent of them will occur in the world's less wealthy nations, particularly in the Asia-Pacific.

The World Health Organization says that chronic diseases, such as stroke, cancer, diabetes, heart and lung diseases, are responsible for two-thirds of all deaths in Asia and the Pacific. And in 10 years, they will comprise 72 percent of all deaths in the region.

The head of the United Nations (Economic and Social) Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Kim

Hak-Su, Tuesday presented the WHO report, which attributes the increase in deaths from chronic diseases to recent economic advances in many countries.

"While infectious and parasitic diseases have until recently been the main killers in Asia and the Pacific, they are no longer the major cause of death in most countries," said Kim.

The report says chronic diseases were responsible last year for 11 million, or 80 percent, of the deaths in middle-income countries, such as China, Thailand, Malaysia, Russia and Turkey.

And it was responsible for nine million, or one-half, of the deaths in low-income countries, like India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Cambodia, Burma, Laos and Vietnam.

The WHO Director for Non-Communicable Diseases Robert Beaglehole noted that chronic diseases are killing middle-aged people.

"The death rates in middle-aged people in low and middle-income countries are now higher than they are in wealthy countries," said Beaglehole. "So this pandemic is striking down people in this region in their middle ages, in their productive ages."

And the economic impact is high. The WHO estimates the cost in medical treatment and lost productivity from chronic disease over the next 10 years will surpass $500 billion in China, $300 billion in Russia, and $200 billion in India.

Health officials say up to 80 percent of deaths from chronic diseases can be prevented because they are linked to lifestyle issues such as poor diet, physical inactivity and tobacco and alcohol use. This is true even among the poor.

The head of Thailand's Health Promotion Foundation, Supakorn Buasai, says studies have shown that alcohol, gambling and tobacco are among the top expenses among rural poor in his country. And he says children spend more than one-half of their pocket money on sugar-based candies.

"The community has not been [made] aware of these expenses before," said Supakorn. "But if you involve them in identifying their own expenses you can get their understanding as well as their collaboration."

Health officials say a key tool in preventing chronic disease is for governments to restrict marketing alcohol and tobacco to the young and to educate people on their dangers as well as promote healthy eating and exercise.

U.N. health officials have announced they hope to reduce chronic disease deaths by two percent each year over the next decade. They say if they meet that target, it will prevent 36 million deaths around the world, and 25 million of these in Asia and the Pacific.

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