News / Africa

Cancer, Heart Disease, Other Non-Communicable Diseases on Rise in Developing World

The World Health Organization reports non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and cancers now are more prevalent in developing countries than in the richer countries.  WHO is hosting the first Global Forum on Non-Communicable Diseases to map out strategies for combating this growing danger.  

The World Health Organization warns the problem of non-communicable diseases in the developing world is big and growing bigger.  It says diseases once thought of as diseases of the rich now have shifted to the poor and disadvantaged.  

WHO director-general, Dr. Margaret Chan, says people in low and middle-income countries are increasingly getting sick and dying from heart disease and stroke, cancers, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases and mental disorders.

She says poor countries can ill afford to pay the costs of chronic care.

"Developing countries-they are still struggling with infectious diseases and weak health systems," she said.  They face grossly inadequate numbers of staff, shortages of medicines and funds, and a sometimes total lack of insurance schemes to protect patients from catastrophic health care costs.  Weaknesses in public health services drive patients to the most costly, often unregulated private sector, even for routine care."  

The World Health Organization reports 40 percent of the estimated 35 million yearly deaths from non-communicable diseases is premature.  It says many deaths from heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and asthma are preventable.

Dr. Chan notes many people also suffer from diseases such as diabetes and asthma that often require life-long care.  She notes these diseases are not part of the ageing process.  

She says they often begin in childhood.  She says hypertension and some cancers also can occur in children and young adults.

"Moreover, this is a world in which an estimated 43 million pre-school children are obese or overweight.  Think of what this means in terms of life-long risks to their health and the life-long costs of care.  And, one other thought, this could be the first generation of children…in a very long time, that has a life expectancy shorter than that of their parents," she said.   

Dr. Chan cites tobacco use, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, and the harmful use of alcohol as the four big risk factors.  She says many of the diseases caused by these factors can be prevented through changes in life style.

She urges countries to enact measures that make it easier for people to adopt healthy lifestyles.  She says non-communicable diseases can be managed, treated and sometimes cured.  But, prevention, she says is likely to bring the greatest gains.

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