The GlobalSyndemic | Sunday Observer

The GlobalSyndemic

“The Global Syndemic represents the paramount health challenge for humans, the environment, and our planet in the 21st Century” – The Lancet

For the first time in recorded history, bacteria, viruses and other infectious agents do not cause the majority of deaths or disability in any region of the world. Deaths from malaria, tuberculosis and diarrheal diseases have fallen more than 25% each since 2003. In 1950, there were nearly 100 countries, including almost everyone in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia, where at least one out of five children died before their fifth birthday. Today, there are none. The average life expectancy at birth in developing countries has risen to 70 years.

But the news is not all good. In the past, gains in longevity went hand in hand with broader improvements in health care systems, governance, and infrastructure. That meant the by-products of better health - a growing young workforce, less deadly cities and a shift in countries’ health care needs to the problems of older people - were sources of wider prosperity and inclusion. Today, improvements in health are driven more by targeted medical interventions and international aid than by general development.

Human health has come to be viewed in terms of the mere absence of diseases or the successful or unsuccessful treatment/control of it. This is of course contrary to the World Health Organization (WHO) definition of health. Consequently, disease care has come to be accepted and synonymous with health care.

This misinterpretation of the definition of health is the fundamental cause of the rise of the epidemic of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) globally. Multidisciplinary research clearly shows that this is a manifestation of the global economic system that currently prioritises wealth creation over health creation. Put simply, the NCD epidemic is to a very large extent man made for the benefit of wealth creation. In economic terms, this situation represents a clear case of commercial success (wealthy corporations) but market failure (negative human health and environmental outcomes).

There can be little doubt of the reality of human-induced and sustained climate change. Scientific consensus of the link between Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHGs) and climate change only grows stronger and the effects - once a hypothetical risk for the future - are already becoming a clear and present danger in the form of rising seas levels, increasingly unpredictable weather patterns and extreme weather events. Estimates of future economic costs of climate change are 5-10% of the world’s GDP, with costs in low-income countries that may exceed 10% of their GDP.

The bulk of the human cost of climate change will also fall on low-income countries that are less able to cope but who have contributed least to the problem.