Cancer, diabetes, heart and lung diseases are no longer “diseases of the rich.”
And on Saturday, Feb. 4, we celebrate World Cancer Day in honor of the global fight against the noncommunicable disease, which claimed more than 7.6 million lives in 2008, a number that is expected to rise above 11 million by 2030.
All told, NCDs claim the lives of 36 million people annually. And data from the 2010 World Health Organization Global Status Report on NCDs demonstrate that almost 80 percent of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries; a quarter happen before the age of 60.
The five most deathly cancers, according to global statistics, are of the lung, stomach, liver, colon and breast.
NCDs are products of what the WHO has called “21st century lifestyles”: tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and harmful alcohol intake. They are, in the words of WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, “a slow-motion disaster” and “diseases that break the bank.” Harvard University researchers estimate that NCDs may cost the global economy more than $30 trillion over the next 20 years. The cost would rise beyond the reach of even the wealthiest countries like the United States. Fifty-two million people are projected to die from NCDs by 2030.
But despite this pressing information, NCD indicators were not included in the Millennium Development Goals, a major barrier in securing donor funding for the diseases. A landmark declaration against NCDs on the sidelines of the 2011 U.N. General Assembly, however, has raised expectations that NCDs will factor into a post-MDG framework come 2015.
At the gathering in New York, NCDs were proclaimed a socio-economic and development challenge of “epidemic proportions”; stakeholders pledged to create a comprehensive global monitoring framework by the end of 2012, with a set of indicators to help identify trends and assess progress in curbing the spread of NCDs.
The Union for International Cancer Control, a leading nongovernmental organization advocating against cancer, has set up a website for World Cancer Day. The site includes an interactive map that lists World Cancer Day activities worldwide. For this year, more than 150 events were registered, among them the screening of “LIFE Before Death,” a multi-award-winning documentary about “living well” and “dying better.”
For its valiant efforts to reduce the spread of cancer and ease the pain and suffering of patients around the world, we salute the global health community.