Academics and Research / News

DU center’s new book on global health is a prescription of hope

Those working for healthier humans around the globe are making headway in fighting communicable diseases such as AIDS, malaria and diarrheal illness. Such efforts are essential because nearly 10 million children die every year — mostly from such diseases. But more than 9 million would survive if they were born in richer, healthier countries. And the even greater challenge for the future is to beat chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

That’s one finding in a new book released in January called Improving Global Health: Forecasting the Next 50 Years (Paradigm and Oxford  India, 2011) from the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures in DU’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies.

The book is the third in a series of five volumes the center has produced on human progress in which the authors tackle heavyweight topics such as education, poverty, infrastructure and governance.

This most recent volume sheds light on a transition the authors see occurring in global health care — a transition from communicable diseases to chronic ones.

“Because of great advances, the number of deaths globally from communicable diseases has fallen significantly compared to deaths from chronic diseases, which primarily affect the elderly,” says Barry Hughes, director of the Pardee Center and one of the volume’s authors. “This transformation is proceeding and more rapidly and universally than many have realized.”

Statistics show a 50 percent higher rate of death from chronic disease than from communicable diseases, although globally there are still more years of potential life lost to communicable diseases because they kill more infants and children. By 2020, chronic diseases will even take more years of life than will communicable ones.

“We’re bringing the communicable diseases under control — malaria for example — with more bed netting to protect from mosquitoes; AIDS death rates are also on a downward trend,” Hughes says.

However, Hughes says now some parts of Africa — particularly in the north and south — are experiencing higher obesity rates and rising incidences of associated diseases such as diabetes now that incomes are rising.

“They’re able to buy food, but it’s often food that’s less healthy,” he says. “And we’re seeing a sharp rise in those who are smoking cigarettes in Africa and Asia. So there are behavioral problems impacting health, too, like smoking and alcohol abuse and less exercise.”

Another issue is environmental impacts on disease. One example is localized air pollution from the burning of solid fuels in poor countries.

“That’s beginning to decrease, but even as we get that under control we’ll see more environmental disease related to urban air pollution and global warming,” Hughes says.

Overall, Hughes says life expectancies are getting higher around the globe, too. “We’re doing many significant things right,” he says. “We’ve been good, for example, at attacking specific diseases such as smallpox and polio. On a global basis we’ve seen some great success.”

Nevertheless, Hughes says barriers to better health that still exist include money and the knowledge and technology to develop vaccines for malaria and AIDS. “On the finance front, the amount of money spent fighting diseases in developing countries is miniscule compared to what we spend here,” Hughes says.

What’s more, he says, it’s difficult to set up comprehensive health services to treat a wide range of health threats. One example of those threats is maternal mortality rates. “It’s seemingly simple with prenatal care for mothers, but it requires a pervasive system for those in urban and rural areas, and they’re not easy to set up or maintain.”

The Pardee Center provided funding for the 345-page book, which includes end tables that forecast the futures of 183 countries in areas such as health, poverty and education. Hughes says those tables — at nearly 140 pages — contain the most extensive set of global forecasts anywhere.

He adds that the feedback on this book and the series has been good. “What I hear is that the book represents a unique place to see the interconnections among population growth, economics, education and health,” he says.

The volume’s other authors include Randall Kuhn, Cecilia Peterson, Dale Rothman and José  Solórzano. The book can be downloaded for free or ordered online at for $30 in paperback and $100 in hardback.

Hughes spoke about analyzing worldwide solutions at the 2010 TEDxDU at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts.

TED is a nonprofit devoted to “ideas worth spreading.” At TED conferences, leading scientists, philosophers, entrepreneurs and artists present their ideas in 18 minutes or less. TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. DU will host its second local event — TEDxDU— on May 13.


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