Infectious Diseases: A Bigger Task For U.N. Member States Than Expected

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Researchers and pharmaceutical companies are trying to find ways to combat the country's growing epidemic and seize shares of a promising gigantic market. Cancer is a leading cause of death around the world, with around 12.7 million people discovering they have cancer and 7.6 million people dieing from some form of the disease.

A draft statement from the United Nations on addressing chronic diseases at an upcoming summit served as a great disappointment after no mention of how to tackle and treat global disease epidemics, an international health group said group Thursday.

In the second-ever meeting of high-level U.N. officials, discussions of a threat to global health were deemed as a once in a generation opportunity to tackle the predicted wave of cancer, diabetes, heart and lung disease epidemics, classified as non-communicable diseases.

Ann Keeling, chairwoman of the Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance (NCD), who saw the latest draft of the U.N.'s statement, told reporters it was significantly weaker than expected.

There is very strong language... about recognition of the problem and the need to act, but there are no strong, time-bound commitments in there, so it's a great disappointment from that point of view, Keeling said.

NCD Alliance groups some 2,000 health organizations from around the world focused on chronic or non-communicable diseases and has been involved in months of negotiations ahead of the U.N.'s Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases, beginning on Sept. 19.

Cancer and other lifestyle-related diseases are one of the biggest challenges we face today and the U.N. Summit is a real turning point, said Martin Wiseman, a professor and medical advisor for London, UK-based World Cancer Research Fund International, in a statement.

With millions of lives at risk around the world, the stakes are incredibly high. And while this is an issue facing millions globally, every day in the UK people are being diagnosed with a cancer that could have been prevented, Wiseman said.

NCDs, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and respiratory diseases, are the leading cause of death worldwide each year, causing 36 million deaths in 2008 and accounting for 63 percent of all deaths.

Keeling said there were several crucial omissions, notably the lack of any overarching target to reduce the number of deaths from non-communicable diseases, often known as chronic diseases. We want a commitment made on the 20th of September, not in 2012, Keeling added.

Over the next two decades, health experts project that the disease epidemics are projected to accelerate and that by 2030, the number of deaths from NCDs could reach 52 million a year.

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