Sep 21, 2022 - Health

WHO: World "off track" in goal to reduce premature deaths from chronic diseases

Illustration of a health plus with darts all around it, as if they've missed the target.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The World Health Organization warned in a report Wednesday that most countries are "far off track" in their efforts to reduce premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Driving the news: Chronic diseases are responsible for about 74% of deaths worldwide, with low- and middle-income countries disproportionately affected, according to the WHO. The organization estimates that chronic diseases claim one person's life every two seconds.

  • One of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is to reduce premature deaths from NCDs by a third by 2030, but few countries are on course to achieve the target, the WHO report reads.

The big picture: About 86% of the 17 million people under the age of 70 who died of chronic diseases in 2019 lived in low- and middle-income countries, according to the WHO.

  • Regions with the highest probability of premature death from chronic diseases include sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and parts of central and southeast Asia, according to a new data portal from the WHO.
  • Risk factors for chronic diseases can include unhealthy diets, harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, obesity and air pollution.

Between the lines: The coronavirus pandemic highlighted the links between NCDs and infectious diseases, including the disruption to essential health services like cancer screening; lockdowns that led to less physical activity; and the greater risk people with NCDs faced in becoming seriously ill with COVID-19, the WHO said.

What to watch: The WHO estimates that at least 39 million NCD-related deaths could be averted by 2030 if "every country were to adopt the interventions that are known to work."

  • Those steps include a "strong national commitment to protecting people" from chronic diseases, better health care and more investment "in NCD prevention and treatment."
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