Non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes are responsible for 74% of deaths worldwide and cracking down on risk factors could save millions of lives. The WHO announced on Wednesday.
A report by the UN health agency shows that so-called NCDs, which are often preventable and caused by an unhealthy lifestyle or living conditions, kill 41 million people each year, including 17 million fewer 70 years old.
Heart disease, cancer, diabetes and respiratory diseases now outnumber infectious diseases as the leading causes of death worldwide, according to the report, titled “Invisible Numbers”.
“Every two seconds, someone under the age of 70 dies from a non-communicable disease,” Bente Mikkelsen, head of the World Health Organization’s division that oversees such diseases, told reporters in Geneva.
“And yet, a minimal amount of national and international funding is dedicated to NCDs. It really is a tragedy.”
NCDs are not only the biggest killers in the world, but they also have serious implications for how people resist infectious diseases, as demonstrated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
People living with non-communicable diseases like obesity or diabetes were at higher risk of becoming seriously ill and dying from the virus, the report said.
– The poorest countries are the hardest hit –
“The data paints a clear picture. The problem is that the world isn’t looking at it,” the report warns.
Contrary to popular belief, these “lifestyle” diseases are not primarily a problem of rich countries.
According to the study, 86% of premature deaths from non-communicable diseases worldwide occur in low- and lower-middle-income countries.
This makes tackling the problem not just a health issue but also an “equity issue”, Mikkelsen said, pointing out that many people in the poorest countries lack access to prevention, treatment and to the care they need.
A new NCD data portal launched by the WHO on Wednesday shows the highest prevalence of deaths from cardiovascular disease – the world’s biggest killer – in countries including Afghanistan and Mongolia.
The WHO said it is misleading to consider lifestyle-related diseases as NCDs because much of the exposure to risk factors is beyond the control of the individual.
“All too often, the environment we live in limits our decisions, making healthy choices difficult, if not impossible,” the report says.
Although the numbers are startling, the WHO stressed that this is a largely solvable problem, as the main risk factors for NCDs are known, as is the best way to treat them.
– Smoking, poor diet –
Smoking, unhealthy diet, harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity and air pollution are considered to be the main causes of the skyrocketing number of NCDs.
Smoking alone is responsible for more than eight million deaths each year.
“More than a million of these deaths are non-smokers, non-smokers, so innocent bystanders,” Doug Bettcher, senior adviser to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on NCDs, told reporters.
Eight million additional deaths are attributable to unhealthy diets, meaning too little, too much or too little quality food, according to the report.
Harmful alcohol consumption, which causes cirrhosis of the liver and cancer, among other things, kills around 1.7 million people a year, while physical inactivity is responsible for around 830,000 deaths.
But the WHO argued in its report that there are clear and proven ways to reduce these risk factors, insisting that if all countries implemented them, 39 million lives could be saved over the next few months. next seven years.
“WHO calls on all governments to adopt the interventions that are known to help prevent 39 million deaths by 2030 and make countless more lives longer, healthier and happier,” Mikkelsen said.
The report points out that relatively small investments in the prevention and treatment of NCDs could make a huge difference.
Injecting an additional $18 billion a year into such measures in the poorest countries could generate net economic benefits of $2.7 trillion over the next seven years, he said.