By Stephen Leahy
Nov 26 (IPS) – Chronic, non-infectious diseases like heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes kill more than twice as many people than HIV/AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis, experts warn.
In the next 10 years, some 388 million people will die of these largely preventable diseases, which are caused mainly by smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise. Often thought to be diseases of the rich, most of these deaths will be in the developing world, conclude the authors of a study published in the journal Nature this month.
“We have a huge health crisis here that few policymakers and other officials are aware of,” said lead author Dr. Abdallah S. Daar of the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre in Toronto, Canada.
Developing countries, and medical and donor groups have focused almost entirely on infectious diseases, Daar told IPS. “But that’s like putting out one fire in a house burning from both ends,” he said.
The good news is that there are easy solutions to prevent these chronic non-communicable diseases.
“With concerted action, we can avert at least 36 million premature deaths by 2015. Some 17 million of these prevented deaths would be among people under the age of 70,” the report estimated.
Smoking is the most preventable behaviour, and an obvious place to start, they found.
Tobacco-related deaths have hit five million a year and are expected to double to 10 million a year by 2030, with most fatalities in developing countries, the World Lung Foundation reported last week. In comparison, HIV/AIDS kills two million people and TB is responsible for about three million deaths a year, and is either declining or stable in most countries.
Children’s exposure to tobacco smoke is “unbelievable” in the Middle East, India, China and elsewhere in the world, said Daar. Smoking is injuring young lungs, causing cancers, and polluting the environment, among a multitude of other evils, he said.
Rapidly losing customers in rich countries due to higher taxes and public health campaigns about the negative impacts of smoking, cigarette companies have focused their considerable advertising power on the developing world, which can ill afford the cost of buying a highly addictive product and the huge burden smoking imposes on already strained health systems.
Educational efforts and bans on tobacco advertising are just two of the measures that can be employed to reduce the number of smokers. Millions of lives could be saved with some simple steps as outlined in the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. However, many countries need support to launch such measures, Daar said.
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