An Unexpected Global Health Threat

If someone asked you to characterize the biggest global health crisis in low and middle income countries, would non-communicable diseases (NCDs) come to mind? Probably not. With headlines focusing on infectious diseases like Ebola or influenza, the damaging societal effect of chronic diseases can get lost. In fact, NCDs like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer have the greatest impact on economic stability, governance, and workforce productivity. 

The NCD epidemic represents a truly global crisis. According to a recent ABAC/APEC study, the associated risks include a significant loss in GDP, which will, in turn, have an effect on the global economy. These findings were reinforced by a task force organized by the Council on Foreign Relations in the first ever global health report with a focus on NCDs.

The report outlines a number of crucial inequalities, including the fact that premature deaths caused by NCDs will rise to nearly 1.4 million by 2025, while in other parts of the world, they will decrease. This applies to younger populations, as well, with most of the death and disability from NCDs occurring in working-age people.  The report outlines three categories of response:

  • Immediate Action: When governments create a policy environment conducive to primary prevention (not getting sick in the first place) as well as secondary prevention (successfully diagnosing and managing NCDs), we could see swift results. 
  • Planned Action: A renewed focus on trade could create a global framework for knowledge transfer, and increased access to quality medicines and care that people in these low-income countries need.
  • Long-Term, Collaborative Action: Few successful models for NCD treatment and care currently exist. However, through programs such as our NCD Partnership, we can continue to work with health organizations around the world to develop effective and sustainable programs that will improve health outcomes.


The work that goes into fighting this epidemic has enormous importance for real people with real lives. As much as we have already accomplished, we must accomplish so much more to make a lasting impact.