Every two seconds someone under 70 dies of a non-communicable disease (NCDs), the majority of them in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), according to a new report by the World Health Organization.
The WHO study, released today at the UN general assembly in New York, said that LMICs account for 86% of these premature deaths, most of which could be avoided or delayed if people had access to prevention, treatment and care. They are “overlooked and underfunded”, according to the report, entitled Invisible Numbers. “The data paint a clear picture. The problem is that the world isn’t looking at it,” said the report. The world is failing to take heed of the true extent of these diseases, which cause about 41m deaths each year, or 74% of all deaths globally.
At least 17 million people die prematurely before the age of 70 every year due to NCDs, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and respiratory disease.
Cardiovascular diseases (heart disease and stroke) kill more people than any other disease, accounting for one in three deaths a year or nearly 18m deaths. “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,” researchers said. About one in six deaths occur due to cancer, one in 13 due to chronic respiratory diseases and one in 28 are caused by diabetes.
More than 8m deaths every year are attributed to tobacco use; unhealthy diets account for a similar number.
Nearly 40m deaths could be averted by 2030 if countries adopted the interventions that are known to work, the report said. Only 5% of external aid for health in LMICs goes to prevention and control of NCDs.
“This report confirms what we’ve long suspected – that chronic diseases are now beginning to outstrip infectious diseases as the main driver of mainly preventable ill health and death in lower- and middle-income countries,” said Katie Dain, CEO of the NCD Alliance. “We urgently need a major financial and public health reset by national governments and the global health community before it is too late.” Dain continued, “The imperative for action is clear and urgent,” Dain said. “NCDs will cost more suffering and lives this decade than any other health issue; will drain the global economy and impede human capital; will both fuel and be fuelled by the growing inequalities in our countries and globally; and will undermine any efforts to ensure the world is better prepared for future pandemics after Covid. Inaction and paralysis is not a viable option.”