Developing world needs chronic disease help-expert

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BEIJING, Oct 25 (Reuters) Health efforts in the developing world should not ignore the growing problem of non-communicable conditions such as cancer and obesity and need culturally appropriate, cheap solutions, an expert said today.

The World Health Organisation and Chinese Health Ministry warned earlier last year that a surge in chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes due to changing lifestyles could kill up to 80 million people in China alone in the next decade.

''There is a sense in which they are still neglected,'' said Stephen Matlin, executive director of the Global Forum for Health Research, which pushes for more spending on health research and resources for poorer nations.

''It's where most of the investment and research has been over the last few decades and it's where most of the big industry money goes in developing treatments for diabetes, heart disease and cancer and so on,'' he told a news conference in Beijing.

''To a large extent these are solutions which may not be very readily applicable in poor resource settings,'' Matlin said. ''They've not been created with poor people in mind very often. We need to learn how to be able to translate the knowledge we've got into settings where it can be applied in developing countries.'' Even getting people to eat better, exercise and stop smoking in the developed world has been hard, he added.

''We haven't been altogether successful in the developed world at doing that. We know very little about how to change people's behaviour in other cultures and settings,'' said Matlin, speaking before a conference opening in Beijing next week.

''People don't always choose to eat very poor diets, which make them obese and predisposed towards some of these conditions -- but it may be that that's what's affordable or what's available in a resource-poor setting.'' Yet he added people in developing countries also face another obstacle -- lack of appropriate treatments for many of the common diseases they face, such as African Sleeping Sickness. Existing ones can have toxic side effects and are becoming less effective.

Much of the international funding is focused on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and hepatitis.

Yet even when specific health programmes are instigated, like improving maternal health, they may be poorly coordinated and serve only to worsen other problems in the country's healthcare system, Matlin said.

''While they've often achieved their own immediate objectives of reaching people with a particular product or service, they've in the best cases done little or nothing for the existing health services, but in the worst cases they sucked away from it the most skilled and highly trained people.'' REUTERS SKB DS1225

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