WHO reveals ‘unseen figures’ for non-communicable disease crisis as leaders gather at UN

The majority of Africans with high blood pressure are unaware of their condition.

About two-thirds of Africans with non-communicable diseases die prematurely compared to less than a third of Europeans living with non-communicable diseases – in all likelihood because their countries’ health systems are ill-equipped to treat their conditions.

This is one of the most stark statistics contained in Extensive data visualization tool So far, which was launched by the World Health Organization on Wednesday to help countries determine the scale and costs of the global NCD crisis.

Launch the tool with a Milestone Reportcoinciding with the first high-level meeting of the Global Group of Heads of State and Government on Non-Communicable Diseases at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Wednesday.

The United Nations General Assembly closed meeting is a follow-up to the launch Presidential Council on Non-communicable Diseasesannounced at an international meeting hosted by the Presidents of Ghana and Norway.

“Nearly three-quarters of global deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases, yet these numbers remain invisible and are not adequately addressed,” said Dr. Leanne Riley, author of the report and head of the surveillance, monitoring and reporting unit in the Department of Non-communicable Diseases at the World Health Organization. “We hope to highlight these by highlighting the portal and the report.”

While non-communicable diseases such as obesity and cardiovascular disease have long been portrayed as problems of rich countries, the data shows that this view is outdated.

“Every year, non-communicable diseases claim the lives of 17 million people under the age of 70 – at a rate of one every two seconds,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the report’s foreword. “Non-communicable diseases affect all countries and regions, but the greatest burden falls on low- and middle-income countries, which account for 86% of premature deaths.”

Air pollution, a major risk factor that disproportionately affects people in low- and middle-income countries and is responsible for 16% of all premature deaths annually according to recent study From the Lancet, in the portal data under “Chronic Respiratory Diseases.” However, it is not included as a separate risk factor such as obesity, diet, tobacco, alcohol and physical inactivity.

“The relative risk of dying from non-communicable diseases prematurely is two to three times higher in a low- or middle-income country than in a rich country,” WHO senior adviser Doug Beecher said at a closed press conference last week. “The risks are much greater in the least developed countries.”

Meanwhile, Benti Mikkelson, director of the Department of Non-Communicable Diseases at the World Health Organization, said: “The data paint a clear picture. The problem is that the world is not looking at it.”

Rich country problem? Data can be misleading

“There has been a perception for a long time that non-communicable diseases are a problem for rich countries, but this is not the case at all,” Riley said of the report’s findings. “A lot of these premature deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries where services may not be well developed to cope with them.”

A quick dive into the data available on the newly released portal reveals where this misunderstanding might be explained from. First, a look at the percentage of total deaths from non-communicable diseases shows a seemingly heavy burden on the world’s richest regions.

While the global average is 74%, non-communicable diseases in the European region are responsible for 90% of deaths. On the other hand, in Africa, non-communicable diseases cause only 37% of deaths on average.

But when the perspective is flipped to the percentage of NCD deaths that occur prematurely — at or under 70 years old — the picture suddenly changes dramatically.

In Europe, early mortality from non-communicable diseases averages 30%, with some countries such as Sweden achieving rates as low as 16%.

In stark contrast, the average premature mortality rate for non-communicable diseases in the African region is 64%, with countries such as Kenya, Chad, Niger and Cameroon at 70% and more.

In addition to, Between 50% and 88% of deaths in seven countries in Africa, mostly small island states, due to non-communicable diseases, according to the World Health Organization’s 2022 Monitor for Noncommunicable Progress.

In most parts of Africa, non-communicable diseases are only treated in health facilities in major cities, providing treatment for chronic diseases out of reach Most of the population is rural, semi-rural and low-income.

A lack of accessible services often means chronic conditions are underdiagnosed, resulting in fewer opportunities for treatment and successful intervention to thwart their fatal effects. For example, while two-thirds of people with high blood pressure live in low- and middle-income countries, half of those with high blood pressure do not even realize they have it.

As health services in low- and middle-income countries in Africa and beyond have not yet adapted to the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases, their threat is steadily increasing.

A WHO spokesperson said: “If you look at the top 10 causes of death versus rates of increase today, they will continue to rise due to non-communicable diseases while communicable diseases decline in nearly every income environment.” Health Policy Monitoring.

The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Machidiso Moeti, stressed the need for decisive action by the continent’s leaders on the eve of a high-level summit on non-communicable diseases in Ghana in April.

“The growing burden of non-communicable diseases poses a serious threat to the health and lives of millions of people in Africa,” she said.

Lack of investment and lack of treatment facilities

In August, African Ministers of Health Adopt a new regional strategyAnd the Known as PEN-PLUSto improve the diagnosis and treatment of acute forms of non-communicable diseases in district hospitals and first-level referral facilities where care is largely unavailable today.

Only 36% of African countries said they had essential medicines for non-communicable diseases in public hospitals, according to a 2019 survey by the World Health Organization.

About 97 million Africans – more than 8% of the population – incur catastrophic health care costs each year, according to a 2021 report from Health care in Africa From the International Conference on Health Agenda for Africa. This pushes about 15 million people into poverty annually.

Comparing rates of risk factors for non-communicable disease outcomes between the two regions through the data portal shows a stark picture of how underinvestment affects health outcomes.

If we take the examples of diabetes and cardiovascular disease versus its precursors, obesity and physical inactivity, the disparities in the data between Europe and Africa are indicative.

In Europe, data shows that 59% of the population is overweight, with the obesity rate at 23%. The average physical inactivity rate is 29% across the region.

On the other hand, data in Africa shows that only 31% of people are overweight, and only 23% are obese. The difference in the average physical inactivity rate is less striking, but still seven points lower than the European region at 22%.

Despite these obvious advantages in the prevalence of major risk factors, the age-standardized mortality rate in Africa for diabetes is 48 per 100,000 people, which is nearly five times Europe’s rate of 10 per 100,000.

Michelson noted that “only 50% of people get insulin about 100 years after its discovery,” citing WHO report from 2021

Data on deaths from cardiovascular disease tell the same story: 262 cases per 100,000 people in Africa, compared to 190 cases per 100,000 people in Europe.

SDG goal out of reach?

Only a few countries are set to reach the 2030 global Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) deadline to reduce premature deaths associated with non-communicable diseases by a third.

If previous trends continue, low- and middle-income countries – along with most of the rest of the world – will fall well short of the SDG targets. But with additional spending equal to 0.6% of GNI per capita in low- and middle-income countries, 90% of low- and middle-income countries could meet the target.

In addition, if each country adopts NCD intervention strategies that are known to be successful, No less than 39 million Deaths can be avoided by 2030.

“There are cost-effective and globally applicable interventions that can protect people from non-communicable diseases or reduce their impact,” the report states. “Every country, regardless of its income level, can and should use and benefit from these policies – saving lives and saving money.”

according to recent study Published in The Lancet, spending an additional $18 billion annually across all low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) could generate net economic benefits of $17 trillion over the next seven years.

“The benefits of work go beyond health, and [the data] It proves once again that health should be viewed as an investment rather than a cost,” the report states.

“It’s not that simple”

“It is often said that we as individuals are responsible for making decisions that lead to development of non-communicable diseases,” the report concludes. “But it is not so simple.”

With 2019 data showing that aid for non-communicable diseases amounted to only 5% of foreign aid sent to low- and middle-income countries, it is clear that the problem of non-communicable diseases is not just about health, but about equity and sustainable development.

While the UN General Assembly meeting, led by Ghana and Norway, hopes to herald a new era in the global fight against non-communicable diseases, progress is far from certain. The interventions identified by the WHO in the report are not new, and so far, there has been a global failure of countries to adopt them.

“Tackling the phenomenon of non-communicable diseases requires leadership to bring up the issues of non-communicable diseases,” said Ghanaian President Nana Afko-Addo, co-chair of the UN General Assembly meeting along with Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store.

“I am asking my fellow heads of state to collaborate with me as we create a presidential cluster, and as we find solutions to non-communicable diseases through a roadmap for universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals,” resume At a meeting in Accra earlier this year.

“In our time it will be our legacy,” said Afuko-Addo.

Michelson echoed the need for cooperation and urgency: “WHO is calling on all governments to adopt interventions known to work to help avert 39 million deaths by 2030,” she said. “We need to work together, all hands on board: this is urgent.”

Image credits: Hush Naidoo Jade Photography / Unsplash.

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