14 May 2010 The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) welcomed yesterday’s adoption of a General Assembly resolution calling for the curbing of premature deaths from non-communicable diseases, the leading cause of death in the world.
Cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, among other non-communicable diseases, claim nearly 35 million lives every year.
“There is a sense of urgency,” said the agency’s Assistant Director-General Ala Alwan. “Tackling these diseases constitutes one of the major challenges for sustainable development in the 21st century.”
Last night’s resolution highlights the importance of supporting countries to enhance access to essential medicines and affordable medical technology.
It also called for a high-level Assembly meeting, with the participation of heads of State and government, to take place in New York in September 2011 on the issue.
Many of the deaths caused by non-communicable diseases in developing countries, WHO said, could be prevented by reducing exposure to tobacco use, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol, as well as improving early detection of breast and cervical cancers, diabetes and high blood pressure.
In spite of signs that death rates from non-communicable diseases have stabilized or even declined in many high-income countries in recent decades, research points to deaths from these diseases increasing in all regions of the world.
Continuing on the current trajectory, more than 40 million people will die from them annually by 2015, WHO said.
Last month, a WHO official told reporters in New York that non-communicable diseases are imposing a much greater burden on the poorest countries than on richer economies and must be tackled as a development issue.
“It’s not like we have to wait for these countries to develop their economy, then start to suffer from non-communicable diseases,” WHO Coordinator of Health Promotion Gauden Galea said. “We are talking about countries and populations that are already dying at much higher rates and much earlier than people do in the richer economies.”
The Director of the Population Division in the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), Hania Zlotnik, noted the irony that the increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases in developing countries was the result of success in combating communicable diseases.
The consequent ageing of the population means that “people do not die early in life, they die much later in life and it is more likely that then they will die of a non-communicable disease,” she said.
Dr. Galea noted that four chronic diseases – cardiovascular, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory illness – are responsible for 60 per cent of the world’s deaths “and 80 per cent of these deaths are happening in the poorest populations of the world.”
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