Chronic diseases taking ‘immense and increasing toll on lives’, warns WHO

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Esha Saxena Mandala
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NONCOMMUNICABLE diseases (NCDs) are claiming about three quarters of all lives lost each year, the World Health Organization said in a report.

WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the latest World Health Statistics report “sends a stark message on the threat of noncommunicable diseases, which take an immense and increasing toll on lives, livelihoods, health systems, communities, economies and societies.”

The report, he added, calls for a substantial increase in investments in health and health systems “to get back on track toward [attaining] the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

Despite general progress, the United Nations health agency said the NCDs’ increasing toll meant that if the trend were to continue, by about 2050 chronic diseases — which include cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and respiratory illnesses — would account for 86 percent of the 90 million deaths recorded each year — a 90-percent increase since 2019.

The report underscores “a stagnation of health progress on key health indicators in recent years” compared with trends seen from 2000 to 2015, the WHO said. It also warns of the growing threat posed by climate change and calls for a more coordinated and robust response from countries worldwide to deal with mounting health challenges.

The report said that in 2020 and 2021, the coronavirus pandemic resulted in 336.8 million years of life lost globally. This translates to an average of 22 years of life lost for every excess death.

Since 2000, there have been significant improvements in maternal and child health, with deaths falling by a third and a half, respectively. Cases of infectious diseases, such as the human immunodeficiency virus, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria also declined, as did the risk of premature deaths from NCDs and injuries.

These advances have helped increase global life expectancy from 67 years in 2000 to 73 years in 2019.

But the pandemic pushed put many health-related indicators further off-track and contributed to inequalities in access to high-quality health care, routine immunizations and financial protection. As a result, improving trends in malaria and TB have been reversed, and fewer people were treated for neglected tropical diseases.

More recent trends show signs of slowdown in the annual rate of reduction for many indicators, the report said.

Despite a reduction in exposure to many health risks, such as tobacco use, alcohol consumption, violence, unsafe water and sanitation, and child stunting, progress remains inadequate and exposure to some risks, such as air pollution, is still high.

Obesity is also rising with no immediate sign of reversal, the WHO said, “while expanded access to essential health services has slowed compared to pre-2015 gains, coupled with no significant progress in reducing financial hardship due to health care costs.”

“The Covid-19 pandemic is an important reminder that progress is neither linear nor guaranteed,” said Dr Samira Asma, WHO assistant director-general for data, analytics and delivery for impact. “To stay on track toward the 2030 SDG agenda, we must act decisively and collectively to deliver a measurable impact in all countries.”

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