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Global Health: Time to Pay Attention to Chronic Diseases

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Graph of projected deaths by cause in low income countries

Caption: Projected deaths (in millions) by cause in low-income countries. Note increase in non-communicable diseases (orange).
Credit: Adapted from Beaglehole R, Bonita R. Lancet. 2008 Dec 6;372(9654):1988-96.

Greetings from China. I’m here in Shanghai with other biomedical research leaders for two major meetings. The first one, which is the topic of my blog today, is on global health. So, you might expect there to be a lot of talk about malaria, influenza, MERS-CoV, Ebola virus, sleeping sickness, dengue fever, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and other infectious diseases. And those are most certainly topics of intense interest to NIH and our colleagues around the world. But this particular meeting is about a different kind of global health threat that’s becoming a rapidly growing problem: chronic diseases.

While infectious diseases remain a significant problem in the developing world, cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other non-communicable diseases are now among the fastest growing causes of death and disability around the globe. In fact, nearly three-quarters of the 38 million people who died of chronic diseases in 2012 lived in low- or middle-income countries [1].

High Blood Pressure, a Global Health Threat

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Heat map of the global prevalence of raised blood pressure

Caption: Blood pressure is highest in low-income countries
Source: World Health Organization

On Sunday April 7th, we mark the 65th anniversary of the World Health Organization (WHO). Each year, WHO uses the occasion to highlight a particular health issue; this year, they chose high blood pressure—hypertension. It’s a timely choice. Worldwide, at least one in three adults suffers from high blood pressure. That amounts to 68 million adults in the U.S. alone.

Your blood pressure naturally rises and falls a bit during the day, but permanent high blood pressure is a dangerous condition that increases your chance of heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, and even blindness.

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