The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Lest We Forget: The Global Chronic Disease Burden

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on December 2, 2010

Although the risks and threats posed by communicable diseases and pandemic viruses are relatively well-known, it must be noted that some of the world’s deadliest diseases remain non-communicable chronic diseases that affect those in both developed and developing countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), chronic diseases account for 60% of the world’s disease-related fatalities. An example is pneumonia, which kills an estimated 1.6 million children every year – more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

Despite the epidemiological, social and economic impact of the chronic disease burden, the global response to the problem remains inadequately addressed. Limitations in financial support still hinder capacity development for prevention, treatment and research in many developing countries. Many public health systems are still oriented towards acute care as opposed to primary care, which studies have shown plays an important role in preventing illness and death and has been associated with more equitable distribution of health in populations. There also remains a misconception, particularly in developing countries, that chronic diseases are primarily “lifestyle diseases” for those in the developing world when in truth, chronic diseases are responsible for 50% of the disease burden in low and middle-income countries.

Chronic disease implications upon the state of global health security are widespread, prompting health care system changes across parts of Southeast Asia. For example, Thailand’s public health framework was reformed to better fit the nation’s chronic disease burden with the inception of its universal healthcare scheme in 2002. This scheme offered comprehensive health care that included free prescription drugs, outpatient care, hospitalization and disease prevention, but also medical services such as radiotherapy, surgery and critical care for accidents and emergencies. However, due to financial constraints, it could not cover a great deal of chronic disease management and treatment services.

The chronic disease problem is multilayered and complex, requiring action at various levels – including increased focus on primary care, increased awareness of how lifestyle contributes to the incidence of chronic diseases, greater financial investment in chronic disease management and treatment – to adequately and effectively address the issue.

Finally,  greater cooperation between multiple stakeholders – the WHO, United Nations agencies and bodies, national governments, academic and research groups, civil society and non-governmental organisations, and private sector actors including pharmaceutical and healthcare companies – would enable better management and gradual ease of the burgeoning chronic disease burden and better ensure the health security of populations worldwide.


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