Prevention is better than cure for non-communicable diseases

A diagnosis of cancer is devastating for anyone, but in many high-income countries, people receiving such news can be reassured that they will receive treatment and hopefully be cured.

But what of the millions of people who live in poor countries where access to specialists and medicines are limited and where health infrastructure is weak?

Representatives of Caritas Internationalis and other Catholic Church-inspired organisations met with Dr. Shanthi Mendis of the World Health Organization in Rome recently to discuss this global issue. The meeting focused on the dramatic impact of non-communicable chronic diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases on the lives and prospects of people all over the world, but with special attention to those in developing countries.

Of the 57 million deaths that occurred globally in 2008 (the most recent figure available), 63 percent were due to non-communicable diseases. Eighty percent of these deaths occurred in low- to middle-income countries.

Four major risk factors increase the likelihood of developing NCDs: tobacco use, alcohol abuse, unhealthy diet/lack of exercise and poverty. Poverty is the only risk factor over which most people have no control and has perhaps the most powerful influence over whether sick people will live or die.

People on low-incomes develop NCDs at an earlier age and the impact on their lives is more dramatic. They often have less access to good healthcare and are hit hardest by loss of earnings through illness. They may not be able to afford care costs. They’re also less likely to have access to nutritious food to rebuild their health.