The global spread of chronic diseases has been dealt a blow with the formation of an alliance with a particular focus on tackling the problem in the developing world.
The alliance's launch this week (15 June) follows a Nature paper, published in November 2007, which highlighted the threat of chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs) such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
CNCDs are responsible for around 60 per cent of all deaths worldwide — and eighty per cent of these occur in low- and middle-income countries (see World 'must face up to chronic disease').
The Global Alliance for Chronic Disease comprises six of the world's leading health agencies — including China's Ministry of Health and the Indian Council of Medical Research. The group collectively manages an estimated 80 per cent of all public health funding.
The alliance will develop a coordinated research effort based on priorities identified in 2007, including finding ways to prevent cardiovascular diseases and diabetes and assessing the major risk factors for chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
Abdallah Daar, of the Canada-based McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health, told SciDev.Net that the developing world faces many challenges in tackling chronic diseases, including a historical focus on infectious diseases, healthcare systems better set up for treatment rather than prevention and a lack of resources, awareness and political commitment.
"Chronic diseases are silent killers — so politicians don't get excited and don't budget for it," says Daar.
Daar was unable to confirm how much money has been put into the alliance but says it means that chronic diseases will have a larger share of research funding. "By working together we can identify really important priorities — we can share resources, knowledge and we will increase efficiency by reducing duplication and waste."
He adds that agencies from developing countries that join the alliance will contribute according to their abilities and reap benefits such as the development of research protocols to suit their economies.
Carel Ijsselmuiden, director of the Council on Health Research for Development, says that the alliance could be instrumental in increasing resources for health research beyond the narrow band of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
He adds that the alliance should "focus heavily on how to bridge the 'know-do' gap in chronic diseases, more so than massively researching new treatments only".
And he says that a key success factor for the alliance will be whether it transfers the capacity to conduct chronic diseases research to developing-country researchers and institutions.