Global health alliance targets chronic disease wave

LONDON An alliance of the world’s top public health researchers set out plans on Monday to invest tens of millions of dollars in heart and lung disease studies in a battle against a global epidemic of chronic disease.

The group of agencies, which together manage around 80 percent of global public health research funding, said the health impact and socio-economic costs of chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs) was “enormous and rising.”

Experts estimate that unless action is stepped up, 388 million people worldwide will die prematurely in the next decade of chronic non-communicable diseases — which include heart disease, stroke, some cancers, lung conditions, and type 2 diabetes.

“The epidemic of chronic disease in the world has accelerated. We urgently need to understand how to reverse the trend, not just in small trials, but in all the world communities,” said Oxford University’s David Matthews, executive director of the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD).

Dr. Abdallah Daar of the McLaughlin-Rotman Center for Global Health in Toronto, GACD’s chairman, said it expects to invest tens of millions of dollars in coordinated research programs over five years. He could not put a final figure on the projects, since grants have not yet been decided.

Around 11.5 million deaths a year are attributed to hypertension, or high blood pressure, tobacco and indoor air pollution from cooking stoves, the alliance said, making these three areas its first priorities.

High blood pressure and tobacco use are often seen as health problems for richer nations, but the World Health Organization lists them as the top killers worldwide.

Governments and wealthy donors have channeled billions of dollars in recent years into fighting infectious diseases such as malaria or the AIDS virus in the developing world, but chronic disease is now a growing threat there too.

Experts estimate that without action, China and India will lose $558 billion and $237 billion respectively in national income over the next decade due to heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

The GACD was set up in June by six of the world’s most prominent health research agencies — Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, the Indian Council of Medical Research, Britain’s Medical Research Council, and the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Elizabeth Nabel, director of the U.S. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute at the NIH and a leading member of the GACD, said its focus would be on so-called “implementation science.”

“We as institutions have already funded a significant amount of work in hypertension and tobacco control, for example — so much of the basic science and the evidence base is already known,” she said in a telephone interview.

The GACD would take that knowledge and collaborate on projects looking at how to use the science learned from richer nations’ experiences with chronic disease to help fight the rising tide in developing countries, she said.

Daar said political collaboration was crucial: “We don’t want this to end with the publication of a paper, we want it to change policy and save lives.”

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