GENEVA - Chronic ailments such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes will kill nearly 400 million people over the next 10 years and cost countries like China and India hundreds of billions of dollars, a new report on the world's health says.
"The lives of far too many people in the world are being blighted and cut short by chronic diseases," said Lee Jong-Woo, the director-general of the World Health Organization.
He was citing the latest WHO report to draw attention to the increasing threat from diseases that can be prevented in part by healthier diets and giving up smoking.
Until recent years, these chronic conditions were overshadowed by infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, though they cause far more deaths. Chronic, or noncommunicable diseases, account for three out of five deaths worldwide, the WHO says.
The 128-page WHO report estimated that 39 million deaths from chronic diseases in the next 10 years can be prevented through healthier lifestyles and relatively cheap medication, including 28 million in developing countries.
The projections were based on surveys conducted in countries that have already implemented measures to encourage healthier habits. Exercise and better diets can help prevent 80 percent of premature cases of heart disease, strokes and diabetes, the report said.
Although other studies have predicted the number of deaths from individual diseases, the WHO report was the first to project the toll from all major chronic conditions.
It was also the first to quantify the economic burden of treating such conditions in individual countries. China could spend $558 billion treating heart disease, strokes and diabetes over the next decade, the study said. Russia could spend $303 billion and India $236 billion.
"This is a preventable epidemic," said Robert Beaglehole, co-author of the study. "We know what to do, we know how to do it, preventions are very cheap."
The study urged developing countries to adopt prevention policies that have helped cut death rates in industrialized countries. Heart disease-related deaths have fallen up to 70 percent in Canada, Australia, England and the United States in the last three decades, the report said.
It also cited Poland, which reduced deaths among young adults by 10 percent in the 1990s, in part by making fruit and vegetables more available and removing subsidies on dairy products like butter.
"There is no question that low-income countries can follow the example of industrialized countries," Beaglehole said. "Most of their success stems from population-wide campaigns. For example, to reduce the intake of saturated fats, sugar and salt and to encourage activity."
The reported also pointed to cheaper treatments. Medication to prevent complications from heart disease, for example, is no longer subject to patent restrictions and is cheaper to make.