By 2030, the number of Americans who will die from cancer and heart disease will be the highest in history, a study of the world’s highest-income countries suggests.
The study also warns that as the global population grows, the need for more people to have access to safe, affordable and effective treatment will become ever more pressing.
And the numbers may well increase.
According to the study published today in the Lancet, the global incidence of cancer and cardiovascular disease rose by a third between 1980 and 2010, while the global rate of death from those diseases increased by almost fourfold.
And while the average life expectancy of a country’s population is increasing, the average number of years people lived in poverty, and the poverty rate overall, has increased by around half in the same period, the authors say.
As a result, by 2030 the world will be “in a much worse position than it was a generation ago”, according to the report by the World Health Organisation and the Global Alliance for Longevity.
The authors say the number for cancer deaths is expected to be 10 times greater than for heart disease and about half the rate of the global rates of death for diabetes and heart failure.
The global rate for death from all causes has also increased by about half since 1980.
“As the globalisation of medicine and health care has progressed, the burden of illness and death has grown and this has affected not only people’s lives but also their health,” says lead author and epidemiologist David Beggs, who is based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
“The challenges are enormous.”
The authors are not the first to warn of a looming health crisis in the world.
In March, a report by two international organisations called for urgent action to stem the rise of infectious diseases, including pandemics such as Zika and polio.
But while the Lancet study suggests the numbers of people living longer and healthier in the developing world is now a pressing concern, it says the data is incomplete because it does not account for the rise in the number and types of infections in rich countries and the growing number of people who have travelled to poorer countries to seek treatment.
The Lancet study also does not take into account the increasing number of poor people who may not have access or will not be able to afford treatment in richer countries.
The report says there are now more than 6.3 million people in extreme poverty, or $1.3bn (£637m) in 2015 dollars, and there are over 7.1 million children in extreme child poverty, an estimated $1,874 (£1,500) in the current value.
There is also evidence that many of the deaths in extreme regions are caused by infections such as HIV/AIDS.
For example, there are almost 2 million people worldwide living with HIV/Aids, and 2.3m people have died from it, according to a report published last year by the International AIDS Society.
The number of children in poverty in rich nations has risen from about 5% in 1980 to almost 30% in 2015, according a report released by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) last year.
The UNDP report estimated that in 2015 the poorest 50 countries in the global South had an average life expectancy of 81 years, and that a third of those in sub-Saharan Africa lived below the poverty line.
And those in the richest countries in sub -Saharan Africa were estimated to live on average 79 years, while people in the poorest nations in sub Asia lived on average 78 years.
“I think the real picture is that there is a very large global crisis,” says Begg, who leads the World Economic Forum’s Health and Wellbeing Institute.
“There is a global epidemic, but the problem is it’s been going on for a very long time.
And we’ve got very little to stop it.”
The Lancet authors acknowledge the challenges they face, saying that while the world is improving, its infrastructure and health systems are not.
They say they are working with governments to improve the quality of healthcare and the effectiveness of treatments, but they say the key to making a dent in this global epidemic lies in developing a system to monitor and measure how the health system is performing.
“We are now in a much more complex world, with a complex, interconnected system of public and private systems and services,” says study co-author Andrew Wood, a professor of epidemiology at Oxford University, who led the WHO research.
“That system needs to be able and willing to track, and improve, it.”
To do that, they say, the WHO and UNDP are working on two projects, one focusing on how countries are measuring and tracking how health systems operate, and another that will look at how they respond to outbreaks of new infectious diseases.
The WHO’s health strategy calls for the WHO to take over the WHO’s monitoring of infectious disease outbreaks in developing countries, and in a recent report it said