Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer and diabetes, are responsible for the majority of deaths globally, according to UN statistics released ahead of the first high-level UN meeting on NCDs in New York, United States, this week (19-20 September).
Most of the 36 million deaths caused by NCDs in 2008 — 80 per cent — occur in developing countries, according to an article in Nature.
But some experts warn that the UN report could be "missing a big part of the global picture" — the 'epidemic' of NCDs is not necessarily an increase in the risk of developing a disease. Instead, it may simply stem from the fact that there are more people on the planet and also that they have better healthcare that allows more of them to grow old enough to develop NCDs.
Global health is actually improving overall, says the article, with many Latin American countries now having levels of health approaching those of Europe 20 years ago. Per capita levels of many NCDs, including cardiovascular disease, have fallen in most countries over the past few decades, and "as poorer countries grow wealthier, their health systems are likely to improve and drive down disease levels".
Also, despite the rise in the number of deaths from NCDs, infectious diseases (like HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis) still claim more years of 'life lost' in developing countries because they affect children and younger people, says the article.