Chronic diseases pose a threat worldwide, particularly in the developing world. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic diseases account for over half of all deaths each year – double the number of deaths caused by infectious diseases, maternal and perinatal conditions, and nutritional deficiencies combined. Developing nations are facing an epidemic of non-communicable chronic diseases as risk factors such as obesity, lack of physical activity, and tobacco use continue to increase. Contrary to the popularly held belief that infectious diseases are the leading cause of death in the developing world, 80 percent of chronic disease deaths occur in low and middle income countries.
International attention and funding has primarily focused on communicable disease, and as a result the healthcare systems of developing nations are not well equipped to manage chronic conditions. For example, the World Health Organization spends only 50 cents per person on chronic disease (excluding mental health) per year, compared with $7.50 for the major infectious diseases. Regular doctor visits are necessary for proper treatment and management of chronic diseases, but most low- and middle-income countries have not developed the necessary infrastructure or network of specialty physicians to provide this type of care.
Telemedicine and teleconsultation programs offer a cost-effective solution to this problem. Through initiatives like iConsult, healthcare providers in remote or medically underserved areas can consult with specialty physicians over the Internet to gain access to their clinical expertise. By utilizing iConsult, an Endrocrinologist in New York City or Cardiologist in Portland would be able to offer assistance to a provider in a clinic in Chad, and ensure that a patient with diabetes or high blood pressure receives the highest quality of care.
Nugent, R. (2008). Chronic diseases: a growing problem in developing countries. DiabetesVoice, 53, 17-20.