Most people in developed countries think of the biggest health challenges confronting the developing world, they envision a small child in a rural, dusty village beset by an exotic parasite or bacterial blight. But increasingly, that image is wrong. Instead, it is the working-age woman living in an urban slum, suffering from diabetes, cervical cancer, or stroke – non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that once confronted wealthy nations alone.
Charities know that raising money for exotic disease eradication in the West is a good deal easier than asking for funding to upgrade sub-standard cardiac facilities. But by ignoring the far greater, non-communicable problems Africans are doomed to low life expectancies. NCDs in developing countries are occurring more rapidly, arising in younger people, and leading to far worse health outcomes than ever seen in developed countries. This epidemic results from persistent poverty and unprecedented urbanization. According to the World Economic Forum's 2010 Global Risks report, these diseases pose a greater threat to global economic development than fiscal crises, natural disasters, corruption, or infectious disease.
Heart disease, diabetes, cancers and chronic respiratory illnesses are the biggest killers globally, according to the United Nations agency. They account for 36 million deaths a year, or 63% of all mortality, and one-quarter of premature deaths under the age of 60. Deaths from noncommunicable diseases are rising in Africa where they are projected to be the biggest killer by 2030.