More than a decade into the 21st century, the health community is grappling with epidemiological and demographic transitions. In this regard, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) have overtaken infectious diseases as the leading cause of mortality globally. This shift challenges traditional development thinking, which has long focused primarily on infectious diseases and maternal and child mortality as priorities for international actions. While continuing to combat infectious diseases and maternal and child conditions, the world needs to address the emerging NCD challenges. Besides, it is imperative to explore and analyze why we still make a slow progress in addressing NCDs despite a number of global and national commitments.
NCDs, which include cardiovascular diseases (CVD), cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases, are the leading cause of death and a prominent cause of disability worldwide, accounting for more than 36 million lives lost each year and 15 million premature deaths. Moreover, around 70% of the world’s poor now live in low and middle-income countries, where economic growth and modernization have opened wide the entry point for the spread of unhealthy lifestyles.
Evidence confirms that the majority of the health burden from NCDs are attributable from four major behavioral risks including, but not limited to, unhealthy diet, tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol and physical inactivity. Most of the aforementioned risks are preventable. High blood pressure accounts for more than 7.5 million deaths annually. The second leading cause of NCDs is tobacco use, which contributes to 5.1 million deaths each year, followed by high blood glucose (3.4 million deaths).
Apart from the Big Four Diseases and Big Four Risks, mental neurological and substance use disorders and malnutrition in all forms also contribute to the huge health burden worldwide. Thus NCDs can no longer be conceptualized as a rich-country problem. WHO estimates that 80% of the burden from NCDs now falls on low- and middle-income countries, where people develop these diseases earlier, fall sicker, and unfortunately die sooner than their counterparts in wealthy nations.