Non-Communicable Diseases in the Developing World

The largest public health problem in the developing world is currently non-communicable diseases, or NCDs. NCDs like cardiovascular disease and cancer kill around eight million people before they are 60 years old each year in developing countries. NCD-attributed deaths make up about 90 percent of  premature deaths in the world.

Urbanization, higher life expectancy and global trade drive NCDs in developing countries. Even though developed countries may have similar public health issues, they are much more equipped to deal with them because they have better and less expensive prevention and management tools and more experience dealing with the diseases.

Non-communicable diseases cause early deaths and debilitation for those in poverty in both developing and developed countries. However, the people effected in developing countries are, on average, younger and have worse outcomes than their counterparts in developed nations.

On a global scale, NCDs will cost developing countries $21.3 trillion over the next 20 years. Even though global focus and aid goes towards communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, non-communicable diseases effect a much larger portion of the population and are growing quickly in middle- and low-income countries.

The last time a global public health crisis that disproportionately affected the developing world was attacked was the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The effort originated in the U.S. with PEPFAR and grew to a worldwide effort. While lessons can be gleaned from that effort, the growing NCD crisis presents different challenges. Of course, the U.S. cannot make resource allocation decisions or policy solutions for other countries. An effort to attack this crisis has to be at the national level with the help and support of the international community.

Because most NCDs are characterized by chronicity, they have devastating socio-economic consequences. Patients require more care for longer periods of time. This not only takes them out of the workforce and reduces productivity but also uses up scarce healthcare resources. With a sicker, smaller workforce, economic growth can be stunted and have reverberating economic, social and political impacts for the country and region.

– Caitlin Huber

Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, Harvard University
Photo: Business Insider