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Developing countries will be severely hit by a growing epidemic of chronic noncommunicable diseases (CNCDs), say the authors of a new series launched by The Lancet this week (4 December).

CNCDs include heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes and cancer — diseases that are often seen as secondary to the threat of infectious disease in the developing world. But experts say CNCDs are becoming an increasing danger, and low- and middle-income countries must take action now.

In 2005 the WHO called CNCDs the "neglected development goal". Brazil, China, India, Mexico and Nigeria, highlighted in the series, comprise 80 per cent of chronic disease mortality in developing nations.

"In these [developing] countries, resources for treatment are already stretched to the limit, and chronic disease prevention — focusing on reducing known, modifiable risk factors — will therefore be central to incidence and mortality reductions," said Colin Mathers, senior scientist in the Evidence and Information for Policy Cluster at the WHO and an author of one paper, in a press statement.

The Lancet series consists of five papers that present various steps — such as controlling tobacco use at a national level — to curb the death toll from CNCDs.

For example, one paper by Perviz Asaria from the UK-based Kings Fund, a charitable health foundation, and colleagues estimate that reducing daily salt intake by around 15 per cent and moderating tobacco use would prevent around 13.8 million CNCD-related deaths worldwide — with large numbers of lives saved in China and India. 

A paper by Mathers and colleagues predicts that without preventative measures, a loss of US$84 billion of economic production would occur in low- and middle-income countries from diabetes, stroke and heart disease alone between 2006 and 2015.

In another paper in the series, Robert Beaglehole, director of chronic diseases and health promotion at the WHO, and colleagues urge the food and drinks industry to "rapidly work towards the reformulation of foods high in fat, salt and sugar to produce healthier and less energy-dense products".

They should also "bring the full power of their advertising, marketing and promotional forces to support healthy habits and ensure that positive initiatives to promote healthy habits in high-income countries become the norm in low- and middle-income countries", according to the authors.


Link to Mathers paper in The Lancet*
Reference: The Lancet doi 10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61696-1 (2007)

Link to Asaria paper in The Lancet*
Reference: The Lancet doi 10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61698-5 (2007)

Link to Beaglehole paper in The Lancet*
Reference: The Lancet doi 10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61700-0 (2007)

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