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Monday, September 19, 2011

U.N. assembly backs steps to fight chronic disease

Noninfectious diseases — such as heart attacks and strokes, cancers, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease — kill about 36 million people every year, mostly in poor countries.

In every region except Africa, those diseases kill more people than the ones that spread like AIDS and tuberculosis. But WHO projects that by 2030, chronic diseases are expected to contribute to 75 per cent of global deaths.

These non-communicable diseases or NCDs are often considered diseases of wealthy countries that are blamed on eating unhealthy food, leading sedentary lifestyles and consuming tobacco and too much alcohol.

The WHO's list of recommendations included measures that targeted whole populations, such as:

Adding excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol.
Legislating for smoke-free indoor workplaces and public places.
Providing generic drugs for people with Type 2 diabetes and those at risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Convincing food manufacturers and consumers to cut back on salt and trans fats.
Promoting public awareness programs on improving diet and improving physical activity.
Screening and early treatment of precancerous lesions to prevent cervical cancer.
Immunizing against hepatitis B to prevent liver cancer.
It is the only the second such high-level meeting to be held on a threat to global health. The first was a decade ago on HIV/AIDS.

While that "tsunami" has already begun to swell with the rising ranks of patients, Seffrin said it will get much worse over time without a major global intervention.

"If we don't, it will have a dramatic negative impact, not just on global health, but on economies," he said.

Chronic diseases kill more than 36 million people a year and are projected to cost the global economy nearly $47 trillion in the next 20 years, according to the World Economic Forum. The number of deaths could accelerate to 52 million per year in that time, according to the World Health Organization.

While often thought of as diseases of the rich world -- linked to living on fatty, sugary foods, little exercise and too much alcohol and tobacco -- NCDs now disproportionately affect people in poorer nations. More than 80 percent of NCD deaths are among people in low and middle income countries.

One of the biggest question marks remains the role of major tobacco and food companies, whose products have already come under fire in western countries for playing a role in rising rates of obesity and respiratory disorders.

Seffrin said the food industry and major drugmakers would likely cooperate.

"They will step up to the plate and will be responsible corporate citizens and follow up with practices to improve access to quality food and nutrition," he said.

"Tobacco is the only renegade industry. They put profits over peoples' lives. I don't anticipate they'll do anything positive.

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