The Quiet Chronic Disease Crisis in the Developing World

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SEATTLE, Washington — Diseases in impoverished countries are typically thought of as infectious diseases that rarely, if ever, affect developed nations. Most Americans do not have to worry about malaria or worm parasites. Ailments like heart disease and diabetes, which are among the quiet chronic disease crisis, are much more of a concern. However, according to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of all global deaths from chronic diseases occur in low-income and middle-income countries. It is a fact that gets swept under the rug amidst the other horrors of poverty.

Chronic Disease: The Forgotten Killer

Afflictions considered to cause more instantaneous ruin, specifically infectious diseases, crowd the narrative of developing world struggles. Consequently, the attention and aid for the chronic disease crisis have been shoved to the outskirts. The Copenhagen Consensus found that assistance provided for chronic disease occupies the smallest category of global health aid, and not by a thin margin.

Meanwhile, according to the World Health Organization, heart disease kills an estimated five times as many people living in impoverished countries than HIV/AIDS. In Sudan, for example, heart disease was the number one cause of death in 2017. Rates increased by 11.2 percent during that same time.

Economic Consequences

The epidemic, in tandem with the emotional and physical toll attached to it, also poses negative economic effects for these struggling countries. The Oxford Health Alliance estimates that chronic disease can take anywhere from 0.02 percent to 6.67 percent of a country’s GDP.

The economic downfalls can manifest through direct costs such as disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment, ambulatory services, rehabilitation and outpatient care. Indirect costs include a reduction in the workforce population and loss of human resources. These losses will only intensify the longer they go unsolved.

Addressing the Crisis

The Copenhagen Consensus analyzed different ways to combat the dilemma. Providing generic risk pills and heart attack prevention drugs is a possible fractional solution to the chronic disease crisis. Although, options such as diet improvement involving salt and tobacco reduction appear to deliver longevity and efficacy that drugs do not. The latter process would require costly health education campaigns. However, tobacco taxation has an estimated BCR (benefit-to-cost ratio) of 40 (meaning $40 gained for every $1 spent). A salt reduction campaign has a BCR of 20.

The United Nations has been working to mitigate the chronic disease crisis through tobacco and salt reduction campaigns, more efficient funding of health systems, improved sanitation and hygiene and increased access to physicians. As of now, the U.N. states that more efficient technologies for clean cooking fuels and tobacco reduction campaigns are a necessity to reach the sustainable development goal of cutting incommunicable disease to one third by 2030.

Although attacking infectious diseases is imperative, it is important not to forget the creeping crisis of chronic disease in impoverished countries. It can result in major economic and social devastation. Often the worst illnesses lie dormant. Addressing the quiet chronic disease epidemic is a moral and financial responsibility on a global scale.

Zach Brown
Photo: Flickr

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