Geneva: Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) – chief among them, cardiovascular diseases (heart disease and stroke), cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases – along with mental health, cause nearly three-quarters or 74% of deaths in the world.
Every year, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) claim the lives of 17 million people under the age of 70 – one every two seconds. Most of these premature deaths are preventable. NCDs affect all countries and regions, but by far the largest burden falls on low- and middle-income countries, which account for 86% of these premature deaths. The COVID-19 pandemic took an especially heavy toll on people living with NCDs, highlighting how these diseases undermine the very foundations of good health.
The term “NCD” can cover a range of diseases. In 2011, the first-ever High-level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of NCDs officially focused global action on four major diseases and four main risk factors. The broader scope is known as the “4 x 4 NCD agenda”. In 2018, a subsequent UN High-level Meeting broadened the scope of diseases outlined in the Global Strategy for the Prevention and Control to include mental health conditions and air pollution. This is now known as the “5 x 5 NCD agenda”.
However, the clock is ticking towards the 2030 deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goal target to reduce premature mortality from NCDs by one-third.
“Currently, we are far off track,” says a report – Invisible numbers: The true extent of noncommunicable diseases and what to do about them – released today by the World Health Organization. According to the report, if every country were to adopt the interventions that are known to work, at least 39 million deaths could be averted by 2030, and countless other lives would be longer, healthier and happier.
The report is a reminder of the true scale of the threat posed by NCDs and their risk factors. But, crucially, it also shows what can be done to avoid them. There are cost-effective and globally applicable interventions that can protect people from NCDs or minimize their impact. Every country, no matter its income level, can and should be using and benefitting from these policies – saving lives and saving money.
Following are the key findings of the report:
- NCDs are a problem everywhere, although patterns of disease vary between countries and regions. NCDs do not affect only people living in wealthy countries. More than three-quarters of all NCD deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) making NCDs an equity and development issue.
- NCD drivers are social, environmental, commercial and genetic, and their presence is global. Every year 17 million people under the age of 70 die of NCDs, and 86% of them live in LMICs.
- Millions of people – especially in lower-income settings – cannot access the prevention, treatment and care that could prevent or delay NCDs and their consequences.
- NCDs are an enormous drain on global and national economies – according to one estimate, they will cost US$ 30 trillion in the years 2011 to 2030
- Spending an additional US$ 18 billion per year across all LMICs could generate net economic benefits of US$ 2.7 trillion over the next seven years.
- Consumption of unhealthy food, tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol is heavily influenced by industry, including the formulation, packaging design, marketing and promotions of products.
- Young people are at particular risk (the tobacco and alcohol industries actively target vulnerable populations, such as children and young people, to consume their products).
- Government action is vital in ensuring that companies play a role in reducing rather than increasing health inequity and that any negative influence of the private sector on health is minimized.
- COVID-19 highlighted the links between NCDs and infectious disease, with serious impacts on:
- NCD care. In the early months of the pandemic, 75% of countries reported disruption to essential NCD services
- Exposure to risk factors. During the COVID-19 pandemic, exposure to NCD risk factors changed. Public health measures such as lockdowns often led to less physical activity, and economic insecurity meant many people could not afford to eat a healthy diet.
- COVID-19 outcomes. People living with NCDs are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.
- Countries committed to the Sustainable Development Goal to reduce premature death from NCDs by a third by 2030, but few countries are on track to achieve the target.
- Governments that are serious about health and sustainable development must address NCDs both domestically and internationally, and the availability of cost-effective policies means that it is no longer affordable not to take action.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified policies to prevent future ill health, ensure that people living with NCDs can play a full and happy part in family, community and society, and reduce the impact of other health conditions such as COVID-19.
- 1 in 3 deaths – 17.9 million people a year
- Fact: 86% of CVD deaths could have been prevented or delayed through prevention and treatment
- Two-thirds of the people with hypertension live in LMICs, but almost half of the people with hypertension are not even aware they have it.
- Hypertension currently affects around 1.3 billion adults aged 30 to 79
- 1 in 6 deaths – 9.3 million people a year
- Fact: 44% of cancer deaths could have been prevented or delayed by eliminating risks to health Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- 1 in 13 deaths – 4.1 million people a year
- Fact: 70% of chronic respiratory diseases deaths could have been prevented or delayed by eliminating risks to health
- 1 in 28 deaths – 2.0 million people a year
- Fact: More than 95% of diabetes cases globally are of type 2 diabetes addressing major risk factors that lead to these diseases – tobacco use, unhealthy diet, harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity and air pollution – could prevent or delay significant ill health and a large number of deaths from many NCDs.
- 8 million deaths
- Over a million from second-hand smoke
- 8 million NCD deaths a year
- all dietary risks combined; 19% of NCD deaths
- 1.7 million NCD deaths in 2016
- 4% of NCD deaths
- 830,000 NCD deaths a year
- 2% of NCD deaths
- Overweight, or obesity, is a major risk factor for NCDs such as CVDs, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders and some cancers.
- Obesity worldwide has nearly tripled since 1975
- In 2019, 99% of the global population was estimated to live in places where WHO’s Air Quality Guidelines were not met.
Top photo: ©WHO
– global bihari bureau