Chronic disease threatens health and development worldwide

h1n1-246x3001The United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals for health received a lot of attention and news coverage this week, especially as it becomes apparent that MDG goals around maternal-child mortality aren’t likely to be reached. While MDG’s focus heavily on historical threats to the developing world such as infectious diseases, researchers from Emory University assert the importance of rigorous global health attention on noncommunicable diseases. Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers remind us that chronic health conditions such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease aren’t just the scourge of the wealthy; rates of those conditions are dramatically increasing in the developed world.

Globally, fully 60 percent of deaths are now attributable to chronic diseases, signs of a historical shift away from infectious diseases and malnutrition. Risk factors for chronic conditions such as hypertension, high blood glucose levels, obesity and inactivity, are all increasing, notably in the developing world.  In addition to consequences for public health, there are major costs associated with chronic disease. The Emory researchers find that over the next ten years, 3 chronic diseases- -heart disease, stroke and diabetes-- will cost China, India and Britain $558 billion, $237 billion and $33 billion respectively.  In the US, cardiovascular disease and diabetes cost  $750 billion each year.

The trends are so startling, assert the researchers, that “unless noncommunicable diseases are tackled, goals relating to child health and infectious diseases cannot be achieved nor can economic development be sustained.” It also highlights the need, and opportunity, for implementing international health innovations in both developed and developing areas, perhaps with lower costs in the later subsidized by higher costs in the former. And its a reminder that no matter one's currency, language or longitude, we may not be as different as has historically been assumed.