WHO: Chronic Disease May Kill 400M by 2015

Heart disease, diabetes and other chronic ailments will kill nearly 400 million people over the next 10 years, but many of those deaths can be prevented by healthier lifestyles and inexpensive medication, the World Health Orgnaization said Wednesday.

The financial burden from an increasing death toll from such non-communicable diseases will also be enormous, costing countries such as China and India billions of dollars, WHO said in a report.

"The lives of far too many people in the world are being blighted and cut short by chronic diseases," said Lee Jong-Woo, WHO director-general.

Until recent years, these chronic conditions were overshadowed by infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS , though they cause far more deaths. Chronic, or noncommunicable diseases, account for three out of five deaths worldwide, the WHO says.

The 128-page WHO report estimated that 39 million deaths from chronic diseases in the next 10 years can be prevented through healthier lifestyles and relatively cheap medication, including 28 million in developing countries.

Although other studies have predicted the number of deaths from individual diseases, the WHO report was the first to project the toll from all major chronic conditions.

It was also the first to quantify the economic burden of treating such conditions in individual countries. China could spend $558 billion treating heart disease, strokes and diabetes over the next decade, the study said. Russia could spend $303 billion and India $236 billion.

"This is a preventable epidemic," said Robert Beaglehole, co-author of the study. "We know what to do, we know how to do it, preventions are very cheap."

The study urged developing countries to adopt prevention policies that have helped cut death rates in industrialized countries. Heart disease-related deaths have fallen up to 70 percent in Canada, Australia, England and the United States in the last three decades, the report said.
It also cited Poland, which reduced deaths among young adults by 10 percent in the 1990s, in part by making fruit and vegetables more available and removing subsidies on dairy products like butter.

"There is no question that low-income countries can follow the example of industrialized countries," Beaglehole said. "Most of their success stems from population-wide campaigns. For example, to reduce the intake of saturated fats, sugar and salt and to encourage activity."

The reported also pointed to cheaper treatments. Medication to prevent complications from heart disease, for example, is no longer subject to patent restrictions and is cheaper to make.

[By Uta Harnischfeger, Associated Press]

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