Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New Global Killers: Heart, Lung Disease and Cancer

What's killing us? For decades, global health leaders have focused on diseases that can spread — AIDS, tuberculosis, new flu bugs. They pushed for vaccines, better treatments and other ways to control germs that were only a plane ride away from seeding outbreaks anywhere in the world.

Now they are turning to a new set of culprits causing what United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls "a public health emergency in slow motion." This time, germs aren't the target: We are, along with our bad habits like smoking, overeating and too little exercise.

Next week, the U.N. General Assembly will hold its first summit on chronic diseases — cancer, diabetes and heart and lung disease. Those account for nearly two-thirds of deaths worldwide, or about 36 million. In the United States, they kill nearly 9 out of 10 people. They have common risk factors, such as smoking and sedentary lifestyles, and many are preventable.

It's hard to fathom the suffering these maladies are causing in some parts of the world.

For example, until a few years ago Ethiopia had one cancer specialist, Dr. Bogale Solomon, for more than 80 million people.

"Now three more oncologists have joined," he said, and these four doctors struggle to treat patients in a country where cancer drugs and even painkillers are in short supply.

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