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Both developed and developing countries must recognise the threat of chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs), say experts in a paper published in Nature today (22 November).

CNCDs include cardiovascular diseases (mainly heart disease and stroke), chronic respiratory diseases, some cancers and type 2 diabetes. The authors say these are responsible for 60 per cent of deaths worldwide — with 80 per cent occurring in low- and middle-income countries.

The WHO estimates that over the next ten years China and India will lose US$558 billion and US$237 billion, respectively, in national income as a result of these diseases.

"The economic impact is enormous. It is very much the [developing] countries, struggling to create a healthcare system, who are now being hit by the double burden of disease — both infectious diseases and these chronic diseases," said Stig Pramming, executive director of the UK-based Oxford Health Alliance (OxHA), at a teleconference.

The paper identifies the 20 most important measures needed to prevent and treat CNCDs today, based on the informed opinions of leading health scientists and organisations.

The measures are categorised into six broad goals, each of which are assigned necessary research priorities.

These include developing research activities for health that link with government departments, developing new biomarkers and diagnostics for early detection of CNCDs, and investigating the biological basis of poverty-related health risks.

A 'Grand Challenges Global Partnership' is being set up with a secretariat at OxHA and will be funded by its member organisations for the first five years. Its preliminary aim will be to oversee CNCDs research efforts between organisations.

Abdallah Daar, of the Canada-based McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health and lead author of the paper, said the consensus forms a 'road map' for policymakers and researchers.

"The interesting thing about [CNCDs] is that they are, at an individual level, preventable by simple measures, but these are not sustained at a national level and so we need to look at policies and interventions," said Daar at a teleconference, adding that a change in focus, to prevention rather than treatment, was needed.

Nirmal Ganguly, director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) — one of the partnership's founding members — told SciDev.Net that most of their efforts are going into preventative measures, such as funding a health advocacy programme and establishing a large 'community walking project' in Hyderabad.

Link to full paper in Nature

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