This is the VOA Special English Health Report.
When we think of threats to public health, we often think of communicable diseases. But experts say non-communicable diseases -- those that do not spread from person to person -- are the leading killer today. These are often the result of poor diet, environmental influences including tobacco and alcohol use, or genetics.
Now, the World Health Organization has released its first Global Status Report on Non-Communicable Diseases. In two thousand eight, they caused sixty-three percent of all deaths. And eighty percent of those deaths were reported in developing countries.
These countries are spending billions to treat conditions like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The WHO says the costs of treating non-infectious diseases are pushing millions of people into poverty. WHO Director-General Margaret Chan says: "For some countries it is no exaggeration to describe the situation as an impending disaster ... a disaster for health, society and national economies."
Conditions that last for years are also known as chronic diseases. Population changes are driving the increase in cases. Populations in many developing countries are growing quickly and living more in cities. Aging populations also play a part. Chronic diseases become more common as people get older.
Dr. James Hospedales is a chronic disease expert at the WHO. He says chronic diseases are a major problem in big countries like the United States, India and China and across Latin America and the Mediterranean. And they are expected to become the leading cause of death in many African nations by twenty-twenty.
JAMES HOSPEDALES: "We cannot wait until we have dealt with HIV, dealt with malaria. No, it's upon us. As a matter of fact, one of the major contributors to tuberculosis going up in several countries is because diabetes is going up -- and obesity. So there is a link between diabetes and TB."
Dr. Hospedales says some middle- and low-income countries are beginning to recognize that their health policies must deal more with prevention.
JAMES HOSPEDALES: "We estimate in WHO that over thirty million lives can be saved in the next ten years by simple measures -- reducing the level of salt by fifteen to twenty percent, reducing the amount of tobacco, and increasing the number of people who are at risk of a heart attack and stroke to be on simple preventive treatment."
The WHO is the United Nations' health agency. The General Assembly plans to hold its first high-level meeting on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. The meeting will take place in New York this September.
And that's the VOA Special English Health Report. To read and listen to more health news and for English teaching activities, go to voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Steve Ember.
Contributing: Vidushi Sinha