SEATTLE — The diseases afflicting developing countries are typically thought to be communicable (such as HIV and tuberculosis). While these are concerning, the United Nations (U.N.) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recognize that non-communicable diseases have an alarming prevalence in low to middle-income countries. Indeed, they are the leading causes of death worldwide and are seen at greater rates in developing countries.
The most concerning non-communicable diseases are cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic pulmonary obstructive diseases and cancer. The WHO believes that by 2020, 80 percent of disease will be non-communicable, causing seven out of 10 deaths in developing nations, 50 percent of which will be considered premature.
Lower to middle-income countries are becoming more urbanized and globalized. This exposes people to the traditionally unhealthy Western diet and sedentary lifestyle. Developing nations are now seeing conditions that were typically associated with the Western lifestyle. The problem is that governments in developing nations do not have the resources to adapt and offer enough medical care, such as primary and preventative care. This leaves the poor more susceptible to non-communicable diseases.
A Global Monitoring Framework has been presented to the U.N. and has since been built into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These 17 goals are an extension of the Millennium Development Goals and include a strategy to reduce premature deaths by one-third by 2030. Goal three of the SDGs plans on offering universal healthcare, funding for vaccine research, increase of tobacco and alcohol control, increase of trained healthcare workers, and improved childhood and maternal health.
If these goals can be achieved, they would likely have a large impact on non-communicable diseases. Many cancers are caused by infections (such as hepatitis and helicobacter), or tobacco use. More affordable vaccines are needed in developing nations, and research could help this. Reducing tobacco use would clearly reduce tobacco-related cancers. Reducing tobacco use may also cut down on heart disease and chronic pulmonary obstructive disease risks.
Furthermore, many developing nations do not have the healthcare workforce to treat and educate citizens on non-communicable diseases. Two-thirds of Bangladeshis with a chronic pulmonary obstructive disease are unaware they have it, while the majority of diabetes patients in developing nations are undiagnosed as well. Primary care doctors can help diagnose more people, which in turn gets the focus on proper treatment.
These are ambitious goals and developing nations are having difficulty meeting them. While many Scandinavian and other European countries are doing well at achieving all the SDGs, many countries in Africa are not. Out of the 20 lowest performing countries, 17 are African. The SDGs include things other than improving health. They also aim to end poverty and hunger, fight climate change, improve infrastructure and reduce conflict.
Of all 17 SDGs, the 17th may be the most important: it describes how low to middle-income countries can be funded to help reach the other 16 SDGs. The U.N. expects more developed nations to contribute at least 0.7 percent of their Gross Domestic Product to developing and Least Developed Countries (LDCs). At least 0.15 percent should go to the LDCs. Developed nations should also help less developed countries tend to and reduce their debt.
In the SDG agenda, the U.N. reflects on its genesis. The organization united countries that had been destroyed by war and division. The SDGs build off the U.N.’s notion that Earth is home to all nations. Therefore, working together as one planet will benefit all citizens. It is the belief that we all belong to one world that can fight the global epidemic of non-communicable diseases.
– Mary Katherine Crowley