Chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, are responsible for 74% of deaths worldwide, the WHO (World Health Organization) said on Wednesday (21). According to her, decisive action against risk factors can save millions of lives.
The entity’s Invisible Numbers report pointed out that NCDs, often preventable and caused by unhealthy lifestyles, kill 41 million people each year, including 17 million under the age of 70.
Cancer, diabetes, heart and respiratory diseases surpass infectious diseases as the leading causes of death in the world, according to the document.
“Every two seconds someone under the age of 70 dies from an NCD,” said Bente Mikkelsen, head of the WHO division that monitors these diseases.
“However, a minimal amount of local and international funding goes to NCDs. This is really a tragedy,” he added.
NCDs are not only the biggest cause of death, but also impact how people avoid infectious diseases, as evidenced by the Covid-19 pandemic.
People living with NCDs, such as obesity or diabetes, face an increased risk of becoming seriously ill and dying from the virus, according to the report.
Most affected poor countries
“The data paints a clear picture. The problem is that the world is not looking at it,” warns the report.
Contrary to popular belief, these evils are not a problem unique to rich countries.
The study reveals that 86% of premature deaths from NCDs occur in low- or middle-income countries.
That makes tackling the problem not just a matter of health but of “equity,” Mikkelsen said, noting that many people in poor countries lack access to the prevention, treatment and care they need.
A new NCD data portal launched this Wednesday (21) by the WHO reveals the highest prevalence of deaths from cardiovascular diseases in countries such as Afghanistan and Mongolia.
According to the WHO, many risk factors for NCDs are out of people’s control.
“Too often, the environment we live in constrains our decisions and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to make healthy decisions,” the report states.
The WHO insists that it is a problem with a solution, as the main risk factors for NCDs are known, as well as how to address them.
Tobacco consumption, an unhealthy diet, harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity and air pollution are considered the main causes of NCDs.
Tobacco alone causes more than eight million deaths a year and a similar amount is due to unhealthy diets, whether from eating too little, eating too much or consuming poor quality foods, the report adds.
Harmful consumption of alcohol kills about 1.7 million people annually, while a sedentary lifestyle is responsible for almost 830,000 deaths.
According to the WHO, a relatively small investment of US$ 18 billion annually would make a huge difference in the prevention and treatment of NCDs.