Challenge of treating and managing most common diseases goes global

For World Health Day this year Professor Anushka Patel, Chief Scientist of The George Institute  addresses the challenges of treating and managing non-communicable diseases and the critical role of research , in an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald.

“The figures in the 2014 World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Status Report on non-communicable diseases are nothing short of confronting.

Non-communicable diseases, or "NCDs", have long been and continue to be the leading health challenge in wealthier countries, such as Australia. These are chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes, and are not passed from person to person. They are conditions that usually require long-term care to minimise disease progression.

Of the 38 million lives lost worldwide to non-communicable diseases in 2012, almost three quarters (28 million) occurred in low and middle income countries. About one-half of these deaths were considered premature, occurring before the age of 70 years. By contrast, one to two million deaths are currently caused each year by tuberculosis and malaria.  NCDs are a truly global problem. 

Terms such as “epidemic” and “tsunami” are increasingly used to describe the growing global burden of NCDs.

These latest figures do nothing to discourage the use of such alarming language. Apart from human suffering, the social and economic fallout from rampant NCDs is potentially enormous, with global implications. Recognising this, world leaders gathered to address NCD prevention and control for the first time at the UN General Assembly in 2011. As a participant at that summit, I questioned how the political declaration would translate into the action urgently needed without clearly articulated and measurable goals and strategies.”

So, where are we now? 

In 2013, the World Health Assembly agreed and adopted a global monitoring framework that included nine voluntary global NCD targets for 2025. These address key NCD risk factors including tobacco and alcohol use, physical inactivity, high salt intake, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, but also the availability of treatments to prevent heart attacks and strokes and the availability of basic technologies and medicines to treat major NCDs in public and private facilities.

An internationally agreed target has been set to reduce premature deaths from NCDs by 25% by 2025.

These targets are a positive step forward in the global effort to tackle NCDs. There is now recognition of NCDs as a genuine health threat and we have identifiable metrics for governments globally to be accountable for. 

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