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WHO: Too Many People Dying Prematurely From Non-communicable Diseases

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - An overweight woman sits on a chair in Times Square in New York, May 8, 2012. Nearly 40 million people die every year from preventable causes, the World Health Organization finds.

The World Health Organization reports some progress is being made in reducing premature deaths from non-communicable diseases. But it says much more needs to be done to save the lives of nearly 40 million people who die every year from preventable causes.

In this latest global assessment, the World Health Organization reports cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases, cancers and diabetes continue to be the world’s biggest killers. Every year, it says 15 million adults in the most productive period of their lives, between the age of 30 and 70, will die prematurely.

The biggest risk factors are tobacco, the harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diets and lack of physical activity. WHO director for the prevention of non-communicable diseases, Douglas Bettcher, said the world is not on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goal of cutting premature NCD deaths by one third by 2030.

“The window of opportunity to save lives is closing. This is playing out before our eyes in many ways, including increasing numbers of people, particularly children and adolescents suffering from obesity, overweight and diabetes. If we do not take action now to protect people from NCDs, we will condemn today’s and tomorrow’s youth to lives of ill health and reduced economic opportunities,” Bettcher said.

Despite common perceptions, Bettcher told VOA premature deaths from non-communicable diseases are not just a rich country problem.

“Eighty percent of the deaths are in countries that are already often stressed, their health systems are stressed with the usual, the conventional burdens of disease, communicable diseases, maternal-child health problems. And, then this is an added, extremely large burden for the health system,” Bettcher said.


WHO reports Costa Rica and Iran lead the 10 best performing countries in reducing deaths from non-communicable diseases. It says six countries have achieved no progress at all. Five are in Africa: Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome Principe and South Sudan. The sixth country is Micronesia in the western Pacific.

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