By Dr. Carol Adelman, Director of the Center for Global Prosperity
I would like to take the opportunity on this year’s World Health Day to acknowledge decades worth of efforts in global health by my colleague Jeremiah Norris. Recently, Jerry has been in the forefront bringing chronic diseases to the attention of the international health policy makers and development practitioners and has made strides in this direction.
Fittingly, this year’s World Health Day focuses on health in urban environments, and non-communicable diseases are the listed as the first main health issue in cities. Urban population account for the majority of the world’s population and is expected to rise. Likewise chronic diseases are also expected to rise. The WHO estimates that by 2030 75% of all deaths in the world will be due to non-communicable diseases. Cardiovascular disease is already the main cause of death globally, and in low-income countries specifically, heart disease is the second leading cause of death.
We do not mean to discount the efforts in fighting infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, but as is often the problem in development, topics which are considered hot are the ones that receive the most attention, while those at the periphery remain there until their burden is too large to ignore. Chronic diseases have been gaining some attention in the international development sphere. Christopher Murray, a researcher at the University of Washington, and Colin Mathers, a senior scientists at the WHO, have produced valuable studies indicating the chronic disease will heavily burden developing nations in the future. The growth in aging populations both in developed and emerging economies has also received attention. But attention is not enough, precautions need to be taken. Jerry Norris advocates for better health infrastructure in low-income nations and a greater focus on prevention, such as addressing the rise of smoking in developing countries. Treating a heart attack is obviously much different from treating an infection, and hospitals in developing countries are barely equipped to deal with the latter. Emerging economies such as India and China, that have more established health care facilities, also need to face the looming cloud of a rise in cancers and cardiovascular disease which will manifest not only in dollar costs, but also in loss of productivity.
It’s time that the international health community stopped viewing developing nations as those burdened only by infectious diseases, and understand that chronic diseases are spreading beyond the borders of rich countries.