The World Health Organization reports about 35 million people die every year from non-communicable diseases, which have become the leading cause of death.
Non-communicable diseases were once thought to be diseases of the affluent in Western industrialized countries. No longer. The World Health Organization reports 80 percent of deaths due to the four major non-communicable diseases occur in low and middle-income countries.
WHO Assistant Director-General for Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health, Ala Alwan, says the major risk factors are tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol.
"There is evidence now that the level of these risk factors are becoming higher in low income populations," Alwan says, "So, you have a higher proportion of people who smoke in low-income populations compared to populations with a high income and in many countries, the level of overweight and obesity is higher in the low social-economic classes."
The agency reports three factors are mainly behind the growing epidemic of non-communicable diseases. These include the aging of the population, the mass movement toward urbanization, and globalization, particularly in trade and marketing. The World Health Organization says modernization has brought with it many unhealthy life styles.
Dr. Alwan warns countries must address the risk factors, otherwise these diseases will overwhelm health-care systems, particularly in developing countries. He says health problems resulting from non-communicable diseases will have a negative impact on the social-economic development of all countries.
"We now have evidence that non-communicable diseases contribute to poverty. And, poverty also contributes to non-communicable diseases. And so, with premature deaths, with ill health that they cause, with the disability that they cause, they reduce productivity and they reduce, of course, household income," Alwan states, "At the same time, many of these diseases are expensive to treat. So, health care can be demanding and expensive"
The World Health Organization predicts deaths from non-communicable diseases are expected to increase by around 25 percent in Africa by 2020. In Europe, the World Health Organization says they account for more than eight-million deaths. That is more than 80 percent of all deaths in the region, including 1.5-million people who died under the age of 60.