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High Blood Pressure, Diabetes Are Global Health Threats
May 18, 2012

May 17, 2012

Children lying under blankets
More small children are surviving longer. In Afghanistan, improvements have increased the numbers of mothers who survive childbirth and babies who survive infancy.

The urgency of noncommunicable diseases as a cause of illness and death worldwide gained further credence May 16 with the latest release of global health statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva.

High blood pressure afflicts one in three adults worldwide, putting them at greater risk of heart disease and stroke, the report finds. One in 10 adults has diabetes, which can lead to cardiovascular disease, blindness and kidney failure if left untreated.

The 2012 report marks the first time WHO has surveyed adults in 194 countries on these two conditions and reflects heightened international concern about the dangers of noncommunicable diseases.

“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,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO director-general, in a May 16 press release.

Noncommunicable diseases cause almost two-thirds of deaths worldwide. In recognition of this broad public health problem, the United Nations General Assembly held a special session to focus on the problem in September 2011. The World Health Assembly, the annual convention of WHO member nations, will be held in Geneva May 21–26 to review progress made since that session.

The United States is working for better global health through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which leads many U.S. programs designed to improve health care systems, education and skills in the developing world. USAID is involved in bilateral and regional health improvement efforts in approximately 80 nations.

The Obama administration launched the Global Health Initiative in 2009 to step up U.S. involvement in improving health. Collaborating with home countries, expanding proven solutions and building strong health systems on the ground to foster sustainable improvements are among the initiative’s goals.

World Health Statistics 2012 also reports that obesity doubled between 1980 and 2008, finding that 12 percent of the world population is obese.

The assessment also finds notable improvements in some areas:

• The annual number of maternal deaths has declined by almost 50 percent since 1990.

• More children are surviving past the age of 5, with child deaths reduced from 10 million in 2000 to 7.6 million in 2010.