The Catch 22 of NCDs: Non-Communicable Diseases

There are four big categories of non-communicable disease, or NCDs and they the main cause of death for 6 in every 10 people on the planet. The four NCD groups are cardiovascular (heart) disease, cancer, chronic lung diseases and diabetes. They are the main cause of death in almost 8 out of every 10 fatalities in the second and third world.

These are the less wealthy and poverty-stricken nations of the World. If you haven’t got much money you are more likely to die young and because of an NCD. But here is the catch, you need money, in order to avoid NCDs.  As part of World Cancer Day, Johns Hopkins University’s Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health and the Study of Business Enterprise published a number of articles, ‘Addressing the Gaps in Global Policy and Research for NCDs’.


Food for Thought

The authors of these articles give food for thought to the elite leaders of the first world in five important action areas for fighting NCDs. These action points are: strengthening supply chains, accelerating regulatory convergence, applying HIV/AIDS learning have to improve access to interventions, restructuring primary care, and promoting multi-sectoral action. All of which takes lots of money.

The research was sponsored by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA) in the build-up to the World Health Organisation forum for a Global Action Plan for NCDs at the World Health Assembly later this year.

Meanwhile 36 million of the 56 million deaths in 2008 were down to NCDs and 29 million of them were in the poorer countries. Would the time of all these experts not be better spent in devising a system for redistributing the World’s resources on a more equitable basis, and thus get at the most basic cause of all this death?

[box type=”note”]Cardiovascular disease accounted for nearly half, 17 million of the ‘08 death toll. Cancers of all kinds took almost 8 million people while respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronically obstructed airways, killed just over 4 million. Diabetes was a culprit in just 1.3 million deaths. [/box]

Risk Factors for NCDs

The risk factors for all the NCDs in all four categories are all more prevalent among the poor and middle-income peoples of the World. Tobacco use is a big risk factor. Less well-educated and the uneducated are easily persuaded by the sophisticated and rich marketing efforts of ‘big tobacco’. With the decline in smoking numbers in the well-heeled, well-educated, western world, the developing countries are the prime target markets for money harvesting by the multinational cigarette companies.

Alcohol abuse is another risk factor for NCD and the story is the same, for poor education and a lack of affluence is a social recipe for this well-spring of ill-health. Of course the less money people have the worse their diet. Higher than healthy levels of blood glucose, unhealthy cholesterol (if you can afford the blood tests) levels, and a shortage of fruit and vegetables from an already unbalanced diet, puts children especially, on a certain path towards an early NCD death.

Any number of WHO talking shops will make only a marginal difference to NCD. Only by replacing the profit motive with the equity motive can the World’s political institutions break out of this Catch 22.

Claire Al-Aufi

Claire Al-Aufi is a contributing author for Hive Health Media who provides updates on health and fitness news.

One thought on “The Catch 22 of NCDs: Non-Communicable Diseases

  • March 31, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Thank you for the information! However, it appears the sponsored research lacked focus. NCD was being described as conditions prevalent in the Second and Third World, a statement I consider also very questionable but I shall address that in a moment. If the matter in question is NCD, what was HIV/AIDS doing there? Is this also part of a NCD? You now see why I said the research lacked focus? The four diseases highlighted under NCD cannot be said to be prevalent in the mentioned regions of the world. Cardiovascular heart diseases cannot be said to be a disease of the poor. In any case many etiologies can be associated with cardiovascular heart diseases and these etiologies make no distinction between the rich and the poor. For example, cardiovascular heart disease is secondary to obesity/overweight, a condition that cannot be restricted to only poor or emerging nations! Poverty sometimes is a blessing in these poor regions because many people there have not imbibed this facultative or obligatory sedentary (couch potato) nature and so are forced by circumstances to engage in daily exercises of trekking to workplace and other places! This, as we know, is an archenemy of cardiovascular heart disease. Many of them also live very close to the land; and so their foods are very close to nature as possible and thus are healthy.

    Smoking is a universal phenomenon and thus affects both rich and poor who indulge in it. Cancer is not a disease of the poor. In fact cancer is a gene-based disease and is very multifactorial. The various carcinogens and agents they produce or activate unusual mitogenesis in the body have nothing to do with the strength of one’s pockets. As I said, it is a gene-based and genetic disease. Gene-based implies some chemical or biochemical assault on a gene that is related to cell growth; and this mutates or transforms these genes from normal to abnormal, leading to abnormal cell growth; as I said, it has nothing to do with the strength of one’s pockets. Genetic implies that some cancers (eg, breast cancer) could be transferred from parent to offspring. Chronic lung diseases is a general term, including lung cancer. If one means lung cancer then one will be saying that smoking, which is a global phenomenon and some idiopathic causes are responsible for lung cancers. Other forms of lung diseases depend on exposure to the offending causative factor(s). Finally, there is no place anyone can say that diabetes is a disease of the poor! Diabetes is either when one develops auto-immune response against the pancreas thereby destroying this tissue, or when there is insulin but yet not effective in controlling blood sugar. I wonder what that has got to do with being poor or rich?

    Well, one might argue that a possible dearth of medical facilities could accelerate the demise of people afflicted by any of these conditions in the poorer regions. However, a cancer patient in the United States will, with 98% level of confidence, die of the condition, though he may live longer than his counterpart in the poorer region of the world. Yes, one might say, the death rate, that is number of deaths per specified unit of time might be higher for the same condition in the poorer regions of the world but at the long run their counterparts in the richer regions will still die, in spite of the lower death rate.

    So the fight against NCDs should be pursued holistically and globally. I say this because if we now begin to live with the mindset that NCDs are diseases of the poor nations, then researches into combating them would wane in the richer nations where most of these researches are done in any case. That is the nature of the average human being of course. We must not fall to this form of misconstrued idea.


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