Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) or chronic diseases are diseases of long duration and slow progression.

Four main groups of noncommunicable diseases are:

  • cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) - e.g. heart attacks, strokes;
  • cancers - e.g. lung cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer;
  • chronic respiratory diseases - e.g. chronic pulmonary diseases (COPDs), asthma;
  • diabetes (II type).

Until the second part of the 19th century, the main causes of mortality in the world have been communicable diseases. Industrialization has resulted in availability of antibiotics, vaccines, and good life conditions (such as housing, water supply, nutrition). Because of that, death from communicable diseases has decreased. Improvements have also been made in areas such as infant mortality and child health.

Factors that have contributed to this trend in recent decades include: a higher standard of living, new medicines and technologies, improved health literacy, and attention to values such as human rights. 'Population growth and improved longevity are leading to increasing numbers and proportions of older people, with population ageing emerging as a significant trend in many parts of the world' (WHO, 2011). Because of that, many countries have undergone an epidemiological transition - the non-communicable diseases have become one of the major dangers to human health in the 21st century. In high-income countries, NCDs have long been the leading cause of death and ill-health, its prevalence is now rising in the rest of the world.

The shift in population levels of weight towards obesity is one health challenge that has arisen in the past decade.

  • Non-communicable diseases are the biggest global killers today.
  • Non-communicable diseases – including cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes, chronic respiratory conditions and other NCDs – have replaced infectious diseases as the leading causes of morbidity and mortality.
  • Premature mortality and illness due to NCDs present a growing health and economy challenge in middle- and lower-income countries.

Non- communicable diseases are preventable through interventions that tackle shared risk factors, namely: tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol (WHO, 2011).

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