More aid required for chronic conditions in low income countries

January 17, 2007

In an article published in the January 18, 2007, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Gerard Anderson, PhD, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, highlights the need for more international assistance to address chronic non-communicable conditions affecting people living in low and middle income countries. According to Anderson, chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cancer result in more deaths and account for more years of healthy life lost than most communicable diseases, and yet little international aid is focused on preventing or treating these conditions. For instance, cardiovascular disease is the cause of 30 percent of all deaths globally and 27 percent of deaths in low income countries. By comparison, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, combined, account for 10 percent of all deaths globally and 11 percent of death in developing countries. Prevention and treatment programs for non-communicable chronic diseases are possible at relatively low cost-per-life saved or disability prevented.

"It's a myth that chronic diseases affect only rich countries. Despite the fact that a substantial burden of disease in the world's poorer countries is caused by non-communicable chronic diseases, most international aid is focused primarily on preventing and treating infectious diseases," said Anderson, author of the article, which he co-authored with Ed Chu, a medical student at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "Treating infectious diseases must remain a priority, but additional resources should be committed towards treating and preventing non-communicable chronic conditions if we want to address global health needs effectively and address the major reasons for premature mortality in the world."

Anderson suggests a number of reasons why international aid has historically focused on controlling infectious diseases. For one, infectious diseases pose an international threat if they spread uncontrolled. Another is that many donors want a permanent solution such as a vaccine that may not be possible with non-communicable chronic diseases. Also, chronic conditions are rarely viewed as urgent problems in low income countries and generally do not attract the attention of celebrities.

"There are many effective and affordable interventions for the treatment and prevention of non-communicable chronic diseases. The treatment and prevention of non-communicable chronic conditions needs to be added to our list of global health priorities," said Anderson.

"Expanding Priorities--Confronting Chronic Diseases in Countries with Low Income" was written by Gerard Anderson, PhD, and Edward Chu, MPH, a medical student at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
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Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

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