Research

Poor countries catching up with rich nations in many ailments

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A new World Bank report titled ‘Public Policy and the Challenge of Chronic Non-communicable Diseases’ launched on 27 June, 2007 warns that poor countries are catching up with wealthier nations in terms of diseases like cancer, diabetes, obesity, and cardiac problems.

The report says that by the year 2015, these chronic illnesses will be the leading cause of death in developing countries. The report calls for actions to slow down the trend, and to prepare for subsequent heavy demand on health care budgets. According to the new report rising life expectancy for all age groups, lower fertility rates, better control of infectious diseases, and changing lifestyles with more smoking, bad diets and lack of exercise, mean that poor countries face a future where non-communicable diseases (NCDs) become a major problem.

The report says that countries need to promote healthy aging and avoid premature deaths. They will also need to adapt their health systems to cope with the growing numbers of elderly people who will require long-term care and request expensive treatment. The report says that in Indonesia, for example, private healthcare spending is projected to more than double by 2020, compared to 2005, as its elderly population grows in size, and needs treatment for chronic diseases. Many studies tend to underestimate the real cost of non-communicable diseases to individual people and their families, which can cause a household to slip below the poverty line. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) costs between 1 and 3 percent of GDP in most developed countries. The direct costs of diabetes are between 2.5 to 15.0 percent of annual health care budgets, depending on local prevalence and the sophistication of available treatments. The report sends two messages to governments and policymakers: the appropriate response to the looming problem is to prevent as much of it as possible through public health interventions and medical care, and simultaneously to prepare for new pressures on their budgets and health systems.

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