Tobacco-related diseases to take high toll

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heavy smoking GENEVA (Reuters) - Tobacco-related diseases including cancers and heart disease will kill 6.4 million people a year by 2015, 50 percent more than AIDS, a study said on Tuesday.

But the HIV/AIDS epidemic will be the leading cause of illness and disability in low- and middle-income countries by then and take an increasing number of lives worldwide, it said.

The study by World Health Organization (WHO) researchers projects global figures for mortality and the burden of 10 major disease groups in both 2015 and 2030. 

"According to our baseline projection, smoking will kill 50 percent more people in 2015 than HIV/AIDS and will be responsible for 10 percent of all deaths globally," said their study in the Public Library of Science Medicine (PLoS Medicine).

By 2030, more people will survive childhood diseases and live longer, but the proportion dying from chronic diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes will rise to 70 percent, according to the study.

With the notable exception of AIDS, global deaths from the main infectious diseases including malaria, tuberculosis and respiratory infections are on track to decline by then, it said.

"The epidemiological transition to chronic diseases is in progress in developing countries now so problems of cardiovascular disease and cancers are not just problems of high-income countries anymore," Colin Mathers, one of the report's authors, told Reuters.

The authors, whose study updates the first such long-term projection issued in 1996, found it had "substantially underestimated" the spread of AIDS and deaths from the epidemic. 

AIDS BURDEN

AIDS, which currently kills an estimated 2.9 million people a year, is on track to take some 4.3 million lives in 2015, climbing to 6.5 million in 2030, according to the latest study.

"Under (our) baseline scenario, HIV/AIDS becomes the leading cause of burden of disease in middle- and low-income countries by 2015," it said, noting this was based on antiretroviral drugs reaching 80 percent of those in need by 2012.

UNAIDS says just 24 percent of the 6.8 million AIDS patients in need now receive the life-extending drugs, and those in poor countries are often denied access to treatment due to cost.

Tobacco, currently blamed for some 5.4 million deaths a year, is set to kill 6.5 million in 2015 and 8.3 million in 2030, with the biggest rise in low-and middle-income countries.

Deaths attributable to tobacco are projected to double to 6.8 million in low-and middle-income countries in 2030. However, they will decline by 9 percent between now and then in rich countries, which will account for the remaining 1.5 million.

The WHO has accused cigarette makers of targeting youth in poorer countries as their markets shrink in the Western world.

By 2030, the three leading causes of illness and disability will be HIV/AIDS, followed by depression and ischemic heart disease, according to the study's baseline scenario.

© Reuters 2006.

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