ONLY six high-income countries are doing enough to tackle deaths from chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, a global report said on Friday (4), warning the coronavirus pandemic exposes the urgent need to combat underlying conditions.
In its stocktake of global efforts to stop people dying prematurely from largely preventable and treatable non-communicable diseases, the report by groups including the World Health Organization said many countries were falling short.
Among high-income countries, only Denmark, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore and South Korea are on track to meet the goal of reducing mortality for both women and men by one third by 2030, said the study, which was published in the medical journal The Lancet.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) currently kill over 40 million people a year worldwide, making up seven out of ten deaths globally, the report said.
It added that 17 million of these deaths are of people younger than 70 years old and classed as premature.
While the risk of dying from some chronic diseases — like stroke, heart disease, and stomach cancer — had declined steadily over the past decade, it said mortality from diabetes, lung cancer, colon cancer, and liver cancer are declining too slowly or worsening in many countries.
The research, from Imperial College London, the WHO and the civil society group NCD Alliance, is the second assessment of global efforts to reduce premature deaths from these diseases by a third by 2030 — a UN sustainable development goal agreed in 2015.
“No country can reach that target by simply addressing a single disease,” said Majid Ezzati, Professor of Global Environmental Health at Imperial College London, who led the study.
“What is needed is a package of measures, a strong health system, which addresses prevention, early detection and treatment, tailored to the national situation.”
The report said a total of 17 countries are on track to reach the target for women, while 15 countries are on track for men.
Researchers noted that the relationship between non-communicable diseases and severe illness with Covid-19 highlights the “urgent need for governments to implement policies to prevent avoidable deaths from chronic diseases”.
Bente Mikkelsen, the WHO’s director of non-communicable diseases, said these illnesses were “intensifying the impact” of the coronavirus, and called for Covid-19 recovery plans to include measures to tackle them.
“We cannot allow NCDs to become a generational catastrophe, where human potential is wasted, and inequality is exacerbated,” Mikkelsen said.
The report recommends measures, including stronger restrictions on tobacco and alcohol, as well as cancer screening programs and better access to drugs for hypertension, diabetes and asthma, as well as treatments to prevent cardiovascular disease in patients at risk.