Health data released yesterday by the WHO provided the clearest evidence to date of the spread of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease from developed nations to poorer regions such as Africa, as lifestyles and diets change.
The data showed one in three adults worldwide has elevated blood pressure — the cause of about half of all deaths from stroke and heart disease — and the condition affects almost half the adult population in some countries in Africa.
In its annual report on global health, the WHO also said one in 10 adults worldwide has diabetes, an illness that costs billions of dollars to treat and puts sufferers at risk of heart disease, kidney failure and blindness.
While the average global prevalence of diabetes is about 10 percent, the report said, up to a third of the population in some Pacific Island countries have the condition.
Chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer are often thought of as illnesses that primarily affect people in wealthy nations, where high fat diets, alcohol consumption and smoking are major health risks.
However, the WHO says almost 80 percent of deaths from such diseases now occur in low and middle-income countries.
In Africa, rising smoking rates, a shift toward Western-style diets and less exercise mean chronic or so-called non-communicable diseases are rising rapidly and are expected to surpass other diseases as the most common killers by 2020.
“This report is further evidence of the dramatic increase in the conditions that trigger heart disease and other chronic illnesses, particularly in low- and middle-income countries,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan (陳馮富珍) said in a statement with the report.
“In some African countries, as much as half the adult population has high blood pressure,” she said.
This year’s WHO statistical report was the first to include data from all 194 member countries on the percentage of men and women with high blood pressure, or hypertension, and with raised blood sugar levels, a symptom of diabetes.
In wealthy countries, widespread diagnosis and treatment with low-cost drugs have significantly reduced average blood pressure readings across populations, and this has contributed to a reduction in deaths from heart disease, the WHO said.
However, in Africa, more than 40 percent — and in some places up to 50 percent — of adults in many countries are estimated to have high blood pressure, the UN agency said.