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Few years ago, short term diseases and rapid infections were the most common cause of death worlwide. But today, we are noticing a reversal of this trend, mostly attributable to lifestyle changes.

Chronic diseases are defined as diseases of long duration and slow progression that can be controlled, but generally not cured.

Out of all the chronic diseases that exist, heart disease, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes are the most commonly encountered

and all together they are responsible for approximately  63% of all deaths in the world. Other examples of chronic diseases include; Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, hypertension, fibromyalgia, mental illness, chronic renal failure and osteoporosis.

Infectious diseases are illnesses caused by microorganisms.

These include bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. The disease can be spread, directly or indirectly; from one person to another. The incidence of infectious diseases varies with age groups. However, at the top of the list we usually have lower respiratory tract infections, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB) and Malaria. Malaria and AIDS remain the top two causes of death in Africa. In an era of vaccines, antibiotics, and dramatic scientific progress, these diseases should have been brought under control. Yet they continue to kill at an alarming rate.

Lower respiratory tract infections account for more than 4 million deaths worldwide each year – another great global killer among infectious diseases.

Pneumonia is also considered as one the most common causes of death in the young age group (childhood to teenage hood), most commonly in children with low birth weight or those that are immune-compromised.

A New Trend of Infections

The general trend today is the decline of infectious diseases around the world, compared to chronic diseases. There used to be a time when people in underdeveloped countries were too hardworking to be obese, unable to afford cigarettes (henceforth decreasing their risks of getting lung cancer) and generally died long before reaching their old age. At that time, non- communicable diseases were a ‘rich-world problem’. But not anymore!

Developing countries already bear more than eighty percent of the burden of chronic illnesses. In fact, low and middle income countries account for more than eighty percent of deaths related to heart disease and diabetes. The World Health Organization reports possible deaths from non-communicable diseases to rise by fifteen percent between 2010 and 2020. Chronic diseases are known to affect both men and women almost equally.

Chronic diseases are becoming increasingly prevalent in parts of the world where infectious diseases (like tuberculosis, influenza, measles, and malaria) were the most common cause of death. Recently, healthcare strategies moved from focusing on communicable diseases in children to non-communicable diseases in adults. According to the World Health Organization, chronic diseases are increasingly becoming the most common cause of death around the world, even in places where infectious diseases are still rampant. The World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation have both published some reports that indicate the rapid increase in chronic conditions around the world.

Some of their findings included the fact that diabetes is now the fifth- leading killer in the Philippines and heart disease is the top killer in most of the rest of the world.

The report also made the observation that over-eating has now taken over hunger as a leading risk factor for illness.

 It really shows the rapid change in the fact that we are now dealing with too much food, too much resources, too much of something that was once and probably is still considered a luxury. 

The Impact Of Negative Lifestyle Changes

Nowadays, it’s all about eating more, buying more and getting more. Today, we are dealing with diseases that do not kill us quickly anymore, but rather make us go through a painful and slow life (then death), and this because of the fact that they are chronic diseases.

Tim Evans, a health and nutrition specialist at the World Bank stated: “The pattern of illness is changing rapidly, much faster than many expected. Twenty or thirty years ago, we were dealing with diseases that were killers – childhood killers, infectious killers. Now we are dealing with diseases that are not primarily killing but causing chronic illness like heart disease, injury, mental health.”

According to several health officials, people with infectious diseases are living longer because of advanced treatments. Also, because of the poorer diets in developing countries, chronic conditions such as heart disease and stroke have surpassed infectious diseases as the leading cause of deaths.

It is also claimed that modern lifestyle habits play a critical role, tobacco and alcohol use, physical inactivity and poor diet being at the top of the list.

"Countries like China that once had a low-meat diet and thrived on wheat, corn and rice have increasingly become urbanized and developed. The drop in mortality rates for such infectious diseases has opened the door for heart disease and stroke" said Dr. Thomas Aversano, Associate Professor of Cardiology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

According to the UNAIDS World AIDS Day report 2012, there was a decrease of about 700,000 HIV infections (or more) globally in 2011, compared to 2001.

In Africa for instance, the rate of AIDS-related deaths decreased approximately by one third in the past six years. 

Making Use of the Modifiable Risk Factors

Among other things, the most common and most important modifiable risk factorsfor chronic diseases are:

Continuously unhealthy diet that leads to an excessive calories intake; the persistent lack of physical inactivity, and finally, the chronic use of cigarettes.

Regarding obesity, it has been stated that the prevalence of obesity in adult women will significantly increase over the next 10 years. Mauritius is part of this trend. It is estimated that over two thirds of adult women and half of adult men will be overweight by 2015. Globally, by that date, over 1.5 billion people will be overweight.

  • Some interventions that can be done for the prevention and management of chronic diseases: A well-built public health promotion campaign to sensitize various communities on the long term dangers of both chronic and infectious diseases;
  • Focused prevention programs aimed at reducing the prevalence of specific risk factors such as smoking, alcohol intake and unhealthy diet;
  • Health sector programs that would be targeted towards the identification of individuals with multiple risk factors who are not yet clinically ill; but would surely take advantage of the multiple benefits of early intervention. The programs would also target all individuals with early signs of a chronic disease and who could benefit from early management. 
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