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Non-communicable diseases such as cancer ‘are the leading global killer’

by In collaboration with Adfero | News

28 April 2011

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Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, heart and lung diseases are the leading cause of death around the world, and deaths from these diseases are on the increase, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said. NCDs are not infectious or contagious and are caused by genetic or lifestyle factors such as smoking.

The organisation’s first global status report on NCDs reveals that 63 per cent of people who died worldwide in 2008 – some 36.1 million people – did so as a result of suffering from a NCD.

Nearly four-fifths of these deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries, and the report warns that without action, 52 million people will die each year from NCDs by 2030.

Cancer currently accounts for 7.6 million NCD deaths per year, second only to cardiovascular diseases (17 million).

WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan, who launched the report during a global forum in Moscow yesterday (April 27th), said that the increase in these diseases presents an “enormous challenge”.

She revealed: “Chronic non-communicable diseases deliver a two-punch blow to development. They cause billions of dollars in losses of national income, and they push millions of people below the poverty line, each and every year.

“For some countries, it is no exaggeration to describe the situation as an impending disaster; a disaster for health, for society, and most of all for national economies.”

The good news is that many cases of cancer and other NCDs could be prevented if governments took strong action, such as introducing and enforcing anti-tobacco controls, promoting healthier diets, encouraging people to take more exercise and improving access to essential healthcare.

While many developed countries have already taken important steps towards achieving these goals, greater efforts are needed to encourage those in the developing world to follow suit.

As such, the WHO report places a particular focus on advice and recommendations for low and middle-income countries.

Dr Ala Alwan, assistant director-general for NCDs and mental health at the WHO, said: “About 30 per cent of people dying from NCDs in low and middle-income countries are aged under 60 years and are in their most productive period of life. These premature deaths are all the more tragic because they are largely preventable.

“This is a great loss, not just at an individual level, but also profoundly affects the family and a country’s workforce. For the millions struggling with poverty, a vicious circle ensues. Poverty contributes to NCDs and NCDs contribute to poverty. Unless the epidemic of NCDs is aggressively confronted, the global goal of reducing poverty will be difficult to achieve.”

Oliver Childs, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “This report really hammers home that diseases like cancer are a growing problem in the world.

“But the more positive message is that there are things governments and individuals can do to prevent these premature deaths. For example, experts estimate that up to half of UK cancers could be prevented by lifestyle changes, such as not smoking, cutting back on alcohol, staying active, keeping a healthy body weight, and eating a healthy, balanced diet.”