Chronic diseases of First World spreading to Africa

Health data released yesterday provided the clearest evidence to date of the spread of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease from developed nations to poorer regions such as Africa, as lifestyles and diets there change.

The UN data showed one in three adults worldwide has raised blood pressure — the cause of around half of all deaths from stroke and heart disease — and the condition affects almost half the adult population in some countries in Africa.

In its annual report on global health, the Geneva-based World Health Organisation (WHO) also said one in 10 adults worldwide has diabetes, kidney failure, and blindness.

While the average global prevalence of diabetes is around 10%, up to a third of the population in some Pacific Island countries have the condition, the report said.

Chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are often thought of as illnesses which affect people in wealthy nations, where high-fat diets, alcohol consumption, and smoking are major health risks.

However, the WHO says almost 80% of deaths from such diseases now occur in low- and middle-income countries.

In Africa, rising smoking rates, a shift towards Western-style diets and less exercise mean chronic or non-communicable diseases are rising rapidly and expected to surpass other diseases as the most common killers by 2020.

“This report is further evidence of the dramatic increase in the conditions that trigger heart disease and other chronic illnesses, particularly in low- and middle-income countries,” WHO director general Margaret Chan said.

“In some African countries, as much as half the adult population has high blood pressure.”

In wealthy countries, widespread diagnosis and treatment with low-cost drugs have significantly reduced average blood pressure readings across populations — and this has contributed to a reduction in deaths from heart disease, the WHO said.

But in Africa, more than 40% of adults in many countries are estimated to have high blood pressure.

Obesity is another major issue, with data showing rates of obesity doubling in every region of the world between 1980 and 2008.


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