The WHO recommends that we change our view of chronic disease and act accordingly. This is becoming urgent!
A World Health Organization (WHO) report published in 2006 warns of silent epidemics that will affect all countries, chronic diseases. These diseases are not curable at present and require medical treatment and long-term care. This is why they are called “chronic”. They have been on the increase for the last 30 years.
Chronic diseases will require a profound reorganization of the health and prevention systems. They will bring about lasting changes in the way we live, eat, move around, work… What are you prepared to do to prevent chronic diseases?
The rationale of the report
According to the WHO, chronic diseases include cardiovascular diseases (including heart attacks and strokes), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes. These diseases are changing the way we think about treatment, care and prevention. Therapeutic or preventive action cannot be one-off because these diseases are not curable. WHO is alerting public opinion, professionals and decision-makers to the fact that the measures taken today are insufficient to respond to the strong growth in chronic diseases worldwide.
The overall message
The expression “one has to die of something” is very common. The problem is that in the case of a chronic illness, death is not sudden. Death is usually slow and painful. Chronic illness weakens people gradually and insidiously. It makes them dependent on tedious treatments, machines, caregivers, social workers, family supports. They are costly to patients and to society, especially if they are not detected early and treated properly. If death is not preventable, prolonged ill health can be. This simply requires healthier behaviours in everyday life. Preventing chronic illnesses, both our own and those of our loved ones, is our responsibility.
The message for professionals
People do not want to improve their health behaviours on the pretext that they know people around them who have unhealthy behaviours and who live long lives and people who have healthy lifestyles and die young. These individuals are just exceptions that confirm the rule. The vast majority of chronic diseases can be attributed to common risk factors. They can be prevented by eliminating these risks.
The message for researchers
The whole job of chronic disease researchers is to bring the nuance between a cause of disease and a risk factor for a population into the picture. The prevention of chronic disease is at this price.
The message for decision-makers
It is a paradox that chronic diseases are “invisible” in a society where the media are more interested in medical exploits, genetic discoveries and infectious epidemics. Economically, the costs of chronic disease management will become astronomical. In 2001, the cost of obesity was estimated at 5% of national health care spending in the United States and 2% in France. It should be kept in mind that chronic diseases generate not only health expenditures (otherwise known as direct costs), but also indirect costs such as family consequences and lost production.