Countries facing double burden with chronic and infectious diseases – UN report

13 May 2011

An increasing number of countries face a double burden of disease as the prevalence of risk factors for chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases and cancers increase and many nations still struggle to reduce maternal and child deaths caused by infectious diseases, according to a United Nations statistical health report released today.

An increasing number of countries face a double burden of disease as the prevalence of risk factors for chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases and cancers increase and many nations still struggle to reduce maternal and child deaths caused by infectious diseases, according to a United Nations statistical health report released today.

“This evidence really shows that no country in the world can address health from either an infectious disease perspective or a non-communicable disease one. Everyone must develop a health system that addresses the full range of the health threats in both areas,” said the director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Department of Health Statistics and Informatics, Ties Boerma.

Based on more than 100 health indicators reported by WHO’s 193 Member States and other reliable sources, the WHO’s World Health Statistics 2011 is an annual report which provides a snapshot of the global health situation and key trends.

The 2011 report finds that non-communicable diseases, such as heart diseases, stroke, diabetes and cancer, now make up two-thirds of all deaths globally, due to the ageing population and the spread of risk factors associated with globalization and urbanization.

The control of risk factors such as tobacco use, sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet and excessive use of alcohol becomes more critical, it says, with the latest WHO figures showing that about four out of 10 men and one in 11 women use tobacco and about one in eight adults is obese.

In addition, many developing countries continue to battle health issues – such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria – that are most likely to kill children under the age of five. In 2009, 40 per cent of all child deaths were among newborns, aged 28 days or less. The report notes that much more needs to be done to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing by two thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate – but progress has accelerated.

Child mortality declined at 2.7 per cent per year since 2000, twice as fast as during the 1990s. Mortality levels among children under five years fell from 12.4 million in 1990 to 8.1 million in 2009. Maternal mortality declined at 3.3 per cent per year since 2000, almost twice as fast in the decade after 2000 than during the 1990s.

The report also shows that more money is being spent on health and people can expect to live longer, with life expectancy in 2009 at 68 years, up from 64 years in 1990. But the gap in health spending between low- and high-income countries remains very large.

In low-income countries, per capita, health expenditure is an estimated $32, or 5.4 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), and in high-income countries it is $4,590, or 11 per cent of GDP.

High-income countries have, per capita, on average 10 times more doctors, 12 times more nurses and midwives and 30 times more dentists than low-income countries. Virtually all deliveries of babies in high-income countries are attended by skilled health personnel; but this is the case for only 40 per cent of deliveries in low-income countries.

WHO’s release of its World Health Statistics 2011 coincided with the launch of its Global Health Observatory, a new website that serves as a one-stop shop for data and analyses on health priorities around the world. WHO said the observatory provides easy access to the world's largest and most comprehensive collection of health data, bringing together the organization’s data from all major health and disease programmes.

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