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Is chronic disease a global 'crisis'?

In September 2011, the UN held a high level General Assembly meeting on the current state and prognosis of non-communicable diseases (NCD) in developing countries. The first and only other UN summit held relating to health was in response to the global HIV/AIDS epidemic in 2001. The NCD summit addressed the prevention and control of chronic disease worldwide considering the social, economic and developmental challenges they pose in developing countries. The assembly specifically considered the effects cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, diabetes and cancers has on nations. 

At the summit, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke about non-communicable disease as an issue beyond public health. He said it was a threat to development, affecting the poorest individuals the hardest as they get stuck in a cylce of poor health, unemployment, and financial strain from healthcare bills. Non-communicable diseases are currently the cause of 63% of all deaths and 80% of those deaths occur in low and middle income countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), deaths from non-communicable diseases in Africa will increase by 24% in the next ten years.

If you watched the TED Talk from my last post, Dr. Madu made the point that governments, donors and individuals generally don’t care as much or act on chronic problems as quickly or urgently as they do to crises situations. Given the rarity of UN General assembly meetings concerning global health ,  are non-communicable disease now at a ‘crises stage’? If we are to see real progress and the potential of developing countries to blossom, barriers like the death of individuals in their prime age to contribute to development need to be addressed. As Ban Ki-moon said, this is an issue affecting much more than health.

Just like HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases  are spread through the movement and contact between people, non-communicable diseases can spread but through behaviorial exchange rather than biological exchange. Globalization is a major contributer and cause to the current state of chronic disease. The most prevelant NCDs(cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, diabetes and cancers) are linked to common risk factors: tobacco use, unhelathy diet, harmful use of alcohol and physical inactivity. These risk factors are primarily behavioral choices and can be altered.   

“UN launches global campaign to curb death toll from non-communicable diseases” http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=39600&Cr=non+communicable+diseases#.UMU3sYNfC8A

Margot is a gradute of Cornell University with a B.S. in Biology. She is interested in pursuing graduate school in Public Health and International Development.

The views expressed here are independent and do not necessarily represent those of the staff or directors of EAF. 

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