Every year 17 million people under the age of 70 die of NCDs – one every two seconds, and 86% of them live in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), WHO said
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) – chief among them, cardiovascular diseases (heart disease and stroke), cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases – along with mental health, cause nearly three-quarters of deaths in the world, according to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Every year 17 million people under the age of 70 die of NCDs – one every two seconds, and 86% of them live in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), WHO said in its report titled ‘Invisible numbers: The true extent of noncommunicable diseases and what to do about them’.
“NCDs are noncommunicable diseases, which include some of the world’s biggest killers: cardiovascular diseases (heart disease and stroke), cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory
diseases,” it said.
41 million deaths
In India, according to the report, over 60.46 lakh people died due to NCDs in 2019 and the percentage of total deaths due to NCDs was 66%. And, the probability of 30-year-old-people in the country who would die before their 70th birthday due to NCDs is 22% while it is 18% at the global level.
The four major NCDs – cardiovascular diseases (heart disease and stroke), cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases – along with mental health, account for a very high proportion of deaths and ill health. In total, 41 million people – 74% of all deaths – die of an NCD each year, according to the report.
“Most of these premature deaths are preventable. NCDs affect all countries and regions, but by far the largest burden falls on low- and middle-income countries, which account for 86% of these premature deaths. The COVID-19 pandemic took an especially heavy toll on people living with NCDs, highlighting how these diseases undermine the very foundations of good health,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s Director-General, said in the report.
“This report is a reminder of the true scale of the threat posed by NCDs and their risk factors… The clock is ticking towards the 2030 deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goal target to reduce premature mortality from NCDs by one third. Currently, we are far off track… NCDs are everyone’s business. Working together, we can build a healthier, safer and fairer world for all,” he added.
Relatively small additional investments in NCD prevention and treatment could make a big difference long before 2030: spending an additional $18 billion per year across all LMICs could generate net economic benefits of $ 2.7 trillion over the next seven years. This is an investment, not simply a cost, with the benefits of action going far beyond health, the report said.
Many of these early deaths are not inevitable. Addressing major risk factors that can lead to them – tobacco use, unhealthy diet, harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity and air pollution – could prevent or delay significant ill health and a large number of deaths from many NCDs, it added.
According to WHO, millions of people – especially in lower-income settings – cannot access the prevention, treatment and care that could prevent or delay NCDs and their consequences. This huge inequity undermines the human right of everyone, in all countries, to the best available standard of health.
Four major NCDs
Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) affect the heart and blood vessels and are the cause of more deaths globally than any other disease. CVDs account for one in three deaths – 17.9 million people a year, and 86% of CVD deaths could have been prevented or delayed by eliminating risks to health through prevention and treatment, as per the report.
Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells are rapidly created and spread out of control to affect other parts of the body. One in six deaths – 9.3 million people a year are due to cancer, and 44% of cancer deaths could have been prevented or delayed by eliminating risks to health, WHO said.
Chronic respiratory diseases: The most common chronic respiratory diseases are asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is the third leading cause of death worldwide with one in 13 deaths (4.1 million people a year), and WHO said 70% of chronic respiratory disease deaths could have been prevented or delayed by eliminating risks to health.
Diabetes occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough of the hormone insulin (type 1 diabetes) or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces (type 2 diabetes). One in 28 deaths (2 million people a year) is due to diabetes and as WHO, more than 95% of diabetes cases globally are of type 2 diabetes.
COVID-19 and NCDs
COVID-19 highlighted the links between NCDs and infectious diseases, with serious impacts on NCD care. In the early months of the pandemic, 75% of countries reported disruption to essential NCD services because of lockdown restrictions and channelling of resources, including cancellation of elective care, reductions in screening and redeployment of staff, the report said.
Also during the pandemic, exposure to NCD risk factors changed. Public health measures such as lockdowns often led to less physical activity, and economic insecurity meant many people could not afford to eat a healthy diet.
People living with NCDs are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19. Current evidence suggests, for example, that people with obesity or diabetes have a greater chance of being hospitalised or dying from COVID-19; people with coronary artery disease and COPD are also at higher risk of severe outcomes; and smoking increases the chance of dying from COVID-19.
This implies that protecting people from NCDs and their risk factors will also build resilience to other health conditions, including infectious diseases, minimising the health and economic consequences of future epidemics, the report said.
Noting that too many people are getting sick and dying from NCDs that could have been avoided, WHO warned that inaction on NCDs is not an option for any government that cares about its people or its economy.
“Countries have the power to turn the tide on NCDs. This requires a few ingredients – political will, right policies and interventions, stronger health care delivery and protection for the vulnerable,” it said.
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