Chronic diseases are the largest cause of death in the world. In 2002,
the leading chronic diseases—cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic
respiratory disease, and diabetes—caused 29 million deaths worldwide.
Despite growing evidence of epidemiological and economic impact, the global
response to the problem remains inadequate. Stakeholders include governments,
the World Health Organization and other United Nations bodies, academic and
research groups, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector. Lack
of financial support retards capacity development for prevention, treatment,
and research in most developing countries. Reasons for this include that up-to-date
evidence related to the nature of the burden of chronic diseases is not in
the hands of decision makers and strong beliefs persist that chronic diseases
afflict only the affluent and the elderly, that they arise solely from freely
acquired risks, and that their control is ineffective and too expensive and
should wait until infectious diseases are addressed. The influence of global
economic factors on chronic disease risks impedes progress, as does the orientation
of health systems toward acute care. We identify 3 policy levers to address
these impediments elevating chronic diseases on the health agenda of key policymakers,
providing them with better evidence about risk factor control, and persuading
them of the need for health systems change. A more concerted, strategic, and
multisectoral policy approach, underpinned by solid research, is essential
to help reverse the negative trends in the global incidence of chronic disease.
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