This year has had its fair share of global health disasters. From another Ebola outbreak in DRC to cholera, humanitarian crises and collapse of the public health system in Yemen, global health leaders have been kept on their toes all year long.
The opioid crises and gun violence in the United States of America have also commanded a great deal of attention amidst outbreaks of other infectious diseases we are familiar with; tuberculosis and measles across Europe and South America.
While these diseases made theatrical entrances into the year 2018, a comparatively quiet class of diseases – the noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) – have claimed more lives.
In 2018, 41 million people lost their lives to NCDs; that is equivalent to 71% of all deaths and 2.5 times as many deaths as other causes. Sadly, people in low- and middle-income countries account for more than three quarters (32million) of global NCD deaths primarily due to weak health systems.
Unfortunately, while one would think that NCDS should gain a lot of public health attention, the opposite seems to be the case. They are commonly less-noticed than the radical infectious disease outbreaks.
NCDs, also known as chronic diseases, are the result of a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental and behaviors factors.
The main types of NCDs are cardiovascular diseases (which include heart disease and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes.
Thankfully, during the UN General Assembly in September, a commitment was made to cut NCD deaths by one-third by 2030. However, such resolutions are easier made than implemented given a host of factors and vested interests. As Portuguese Minister of Health Adalberto Campos Fernandes rightly said at the event, “It is not hard to understand that the business of sickness is much more profitable than the business of health. And unfortunately, often, economic interests oppose health.”
Despite the odds, it is important to acknowledge that prevention, detection, treatment, and palliative care are key factors to address in the fight against NCDs.
To address these factors, poverty; which is directly linked to poor health outcomes, has to be given paramount attention. Also, universal health coverage has to be improved, and cover for NCDs while leveraging on other sectors to reduce risks associated with them.
For the average individual, it’s worth mentioning that modifiable behaviors, such as tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, and excessive alcohol intake, all increase the risk of NCDs. These modifiable risk factors account for at least 16.2 million NCD related deaths.
These factors or behaviors are termed modifiable because it is within our capacity to control these behaviors by ceasing tobacco use, engaging in regular physical activity, eating healthy, and controlling alcohol intake.