The United Nations Development Programme has called for the treatment and prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) to be made a major priority on the global development agenda.
NCDs such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, addiction, and diabetes are chronic illnesses that are not transmissible from person to person.
According to the World Health Organization, NCDs are responsible for 63% of all deaths around the world, claiming a total of 36 million lives per year. 25% of those deaths are classified as premature, or occurring under the age of 60.
Failure to curb the increase in NCDs places a significant burden on families, health care systems, and national economies. A World Economic Forum-Harvard School of Public Policy study found that NCDs will cost US$30 trillion over the next 20 years.
Developing nations are especially hard hit by non-communicable diseases. NCDs already account for approximately 80% of deaths in the developing world, with rates of occurrence increasing in Africa, Southeast Asia, and parts of the Middle East. Moreover, 9 out of 10 under-60 deaths occur in developing nations.
Costs associated with chronic illnesses like cancer and heart disease can easily push struggling families back into poverty and can force children out of school because of inability to continue paying school fees.
The UN and other global health organizations want NCDs to be a major focus of the post-Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015 because history suggests that a unified, targeted response to global epidemics can significantly alter the progression and magnitude of the problem. For example, global campaigns against smallpox, polio, and HIV/AIDS have yielded amazing results. In fact, a 2010 Global Burden of Diseases study cites a 32% decline in diseases specified in the MDGs from 1990-2010, suggesting that widespread attention to those specific diseases led to the large drop.
The most common risk factors for developing NCDs include tobacco use, alcohol consumption, poor diet, and lack of physical activity; four areas which public policy may be able to influence.
“Just as health shapes development, development shapes health, ” UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said.
Smart policy can prompt better lifestyle choices, and subsequently, aid in disease prevention. For example, physical activity can be encouraged through public policy relating to urban planning, mass transit, and leisure opportunities.
With increased attention to non-communicable diseases in the developing world, “people’s lives, opportunities, and future prospects will improve – advancing sustainable human development overall,” Clark continued.
– Jordan N. Hunt