Developing countries face 'leading medical scourge of developed countries'

Chronic illness, already a major and expensive problem in developed countries, is rapidly increasing in developing countries, adding to the longstanding burden caused by high rates of infectious diseases. However, poor countries will not be able to afford the costly medical technologies that wealthy countries use to treat chronic conditions, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, pulmonary disease, and diabetes, writes Daniel Callahan, cofounder of The Hastings Center.

Callahan examines this trend and concludes that it calls for a new, more economically sustainable model of medicine, which he proposes in an article in the Brown Journal of World Affairs.

The causes of the increase in chronic disease in developing are changing diets, particularly an increase in meat and processed food consumption, alcohol consumption, smoking, and less physical activity. But in these areas has some distinctive characteristics. For one, it is common to find obesity – a major contributor to chronic disease – and malnutrition in the same families. And chronic illness typically begins about a decade earlier than in developed countries.

"The emergence of chronic disease in is a 'turning point' because they are facing a confrontation with the same kinds of economic pressures that now bedevil developed countries," Callahan writes. But addressing this problem will be even more difficult for the developing countries because of increasing inequities, such as poor access to health care, poverty and economic insecurity, and lack of educational opportunities.

"Chronic disease will only add to the existing inequities," he writes. "Chronic disease treatment is usually expensive, and the rich in poor countries are likely to have better access to it."

Callahan challenges the conventional health policy approach to chronic illness pursued in wealthy countries and particularly in the United States, which assumes that it is simply a matter of finding better ways of organizing and managing health care. Totally neglected is the model of medicine underlying that care. "That model values unlimited medical research and : there is no such thing as enough health or medical progress. More, always more," says Callahan. "But it is just that model that driving up health costs here and all the less helpful to poor countries. It is the goals of medicine itself that most needs reform."

He proposes a new set of goals for medicine, applicable to both rich and , which he calls "sustainable medicine." It is a) affordable for a country in the long run; b) no longer open-ended in its life-extending aspirations, aiming instead for a limited but acceptable population-based average length of life; c) able to keep annual health care costs at the level of the country's annual gross domestic product growth, and d) can be equitably distributed.

"Nothing less than a revolution, one that overthrows the tyranny of an economically and socially unsustainable model of medicine based on a vision of endless progress and technological innovation, is increasingly needed," Callahan concludes. "It will seek to institute a more modest vision, one that accepts the inherent finitude of human life. It will not allow to trump all other human goods."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Noise from fireworks threatens young ears

date Jul 03, 2015

(HealthDay)—The Fourth of July weekend is a time for celebrations and beautiful fireworks displays. But, parents do need to take steps to protect their children's ears from loud fireworks, a hearing expert ...

Many new teen drivers 'crash' in simulated driving task

date Jul 03, 2015

(HealthDay)—Around four in 10 newly licensed teen drivers "crashed" in a simulated driving test, suggesting that many adolescents lack the skills they need to stay safe on the road, according to a new study.

Insurer Aetna to buy Humana in $35B deal

date Jul 03, 2015

Aetna will spend about $35 billion to buy rival Humana and become the latest health insurer bulking up on government business as the industry adjusts to the federal health care overhaul.

Feeling impulsive or frustrated? Take a nap

date Jul 03, 2015

Taking a nap may be an effective strategy to counteract impulsive behavior and to boost tolerance for frustration, according to a University of Michigan study.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.