Shaoni Bhattacharya in New Scientist:
By the end of 2005, twice as many people will have died from chronic diseases as from all infectious diseases, starvation and pregnancy and birth complications combined, international experts have warned.
The “neglected epidemic” of chronic disease will take 35 million lives in 2005, out of the total 58 million who will die globally. And contrary to popular belief, most of the deaths – 80% – from chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer will be in low to middle-income countries.
The two factors behind this epidemic are smoking and obesity, says Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, in a commentary accompanying four studies published on Wednesday. “These risks and the diseases they engender are not the exclusive preserve of rich nations.”
If action is taken now, 36 million lives could be saved by 2015, says a major World Health Organization (WHO) report on chronic diseases also published on Wednesday.
While the world focuses on tackling the major infectious diseases – HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis – chronic diseases are largely overlooked, warns Horton. “Without concerted and coordinated political action, the gains achieved in reducing the burden of infectious disease will be washed away as a new wave of preventable illness engulfs those least able to protect themselves.”