NCDs: Chronic Diseases Affect Us All

Noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes are among the greatest health threats of our time.

Sustainability|Sep.26, 2019

When we think about major global health threats, we might think about HIV, malaria or other infectious diseases.

While infectious diseases do have a devastating impact on millions of people around the world, a different public health concern is gaining attention: chronic noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and heart disease are now among the greatest health threats of our time

These diseases aren't contagious; they don't spread from person to person. The causes of chronic disease are complex – from the decisions we all make about our own health, to the broader social determinants of health such as access to healthcare, healthy food and water, and health education. NCDs affect people at every level — individually, communitywide, even worldwide. And the human and economic costs are staggering.

At Abbott, finding new solutions to treat chronic diseases has long been a part of our work to help people live better, healthier lives. As NCDs have emerged as a growing challenge, our work to find answers today — whether through prevention, diagnosis or treatment — is at the center of what we do.

The Worldwide Impact of NCDs

Chronic disease is a complex, growing health problem. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 71% of global deaths in 2016 were due to noncommunicable diseases like heart disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease and cancer. Low- and middle-income countries are shouldering a disproportionate burden. They accounted for more than 75% of NCD deaths in 2016, the WHO reported.

The global economic burden of these diseases is staggering as well. According to the World Economic Forum, treating NCDs will cost the world $30 trillion by 2030. That's money that can't be spent elsewhere, such as for infrastructure and education projects — projects critical for achieving the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to end the cycles of poverty and inequality.

The impact NCDs have on personal health is immense, too, affecting the quality of life of people afflicted with chronic diseases, as well as their families and caregivers.

Imagine that you're having a heart attack. You need emergency care to treat your condition — and even with the best care, some heart attacks result in a lengthy recovery and rehabilitation process. You miss weeks of work to recover. A family member or friend may need to take time off to help you get back on your feet. The financial and emotional drain can be devastating, and it can set you and your family or caregivers back financially for years, especially if you're unable to return to the full productive life you had before your heart attack.

Now imagine this situation repeated 735,000 times — that's how many Americans have heart attacks every year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says, and it costs the United States about $12.1 billion per year, according to the American Heart Association.

Diabetes can have a similar impact when not managed appropriately. The WHO estimates that about 422 million people worldwide have diabetes, and prevalence of the disease has been rising significantly in developing countries. Many people living with diabetes don't know it, and that puts them at greater risk for complications such as blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and limb amputation. The global economic burden of diabetes, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is more than $1.3 trillion — about 1.8% of the global gross domestic product.

How We Can Fight NCDs

Everyone plays a role in reducing the burden that noncommunicable diseases place on our communities, our families and us all.

By working together, we can help build a healthier next generation. Education and sharing tips for prevention can help people correct bad habits and develop good behaviors to reduce their risk of developing a chronic disease. Modeling good habits — eating right, exercising regularly, avoiding smoking and alcohol abuse — can also help pass on healthy behaviors to children. From a broader perspective, communities help prevent widespread NCDs by addressing underlying social and economic causes, also known as the social determinants of health. These include factors like the environment, income and education levels, and access to transportation, healthcare and healthy food.

Businesses – especially in the health sector – have an important role to play as well. At Abbott, we're using our resources and expertise to effect positive change. Effective testing and care can help people with chronic noncommunicable diseases live long, healthy lives. Our portfolio includes a range of technologies that provide long-term solutions for people managing diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and we offer a wide array of nutrition products and innovative diagnostics tools. Continuing product development aims to help meet the causes and effects of NCDs in countries and communities worldwide.

Improving Health Through Partnership

We're also launching a series of new partnerships that are part of a broader effort we call "Future Well," aimed at creating a healthier future generation by addressing the factors that contribute to chronic disease.

The school-based Future Well Kids program helps encourage young people to develop lifelong healthy habits at an early age. The Future Well Communities program further elevates that idea by empowering people to break down the social and economic barriers to good health in their communities.

In countries around the world, Abbott and the Abbott Fund also are working to strengthen health systems – a critical factor for addressing NCDs. We also just launched a new partnership with CARE to advance the care of NCDs in regions affected by disaster, conflict and other humanitarian challenges.

Through its collaborations with individuals, governments, businesses and communities, Abbott is committed to creating a future of pioneering new ways to prevent and care for NCDs.