The Largest Global Cause of Death Is Being Neglected Because of Headline-Grabbing Infectious Diseases

Seven of the top 10 causes of death are from chronic diseases, like obesity, heart problems, and cancer. But chronic diseases get the lowest research funding donated out of any health conditions. Most development agencies don’t invest in it at all, and most donors choose to spend their money fighting flashy infectious diseases like Malaria and HIV, which are more engaging to the public.

As a result, some really simple concepts have gone without funding to develop them, like a universal “generic risk pill,” or cheaper heart disease pills. Because of how interconnected health, economics, and poverty are, this whole mess was recently identified by the Copenhagen Consensus as one of the top things holding back global development.

But according to a recent review of donor health funding, chronic disease receives the smallest amount of donor assistance of all health conditions, having lost ground since 1990 relative to infectious diseases. Donor assistance for health was estimated at almost $26 billion in 2009. The amount allocated to chronic disease was $270 million, or about 1% of the total. Yet cardiovascular disease in low- and middle-income countries killed over twice as many people in 2001 as did AIDS, malaria, and TB combined.

Ten of the sixteen most cost-effective solutions were health related; seven of these focused on R&D innovation. These included new innovations, such as the development of a ‘generic risk pill’ for vascular diseases which would avert 1.6 million deaths per year and deliver $4 worth of benefits for every dollar spent.

Seven of the top 10 causes of death in 2010 were chronic diseases. Two of these chronic diseases—heart disease and cancer—together accounted for nearly 48% of all deaths.

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