To create a positive health impact on the lives of billions of people, the United Nations (UN) on September 19, 2011 unanimously adopted a ‘Political Declaration’ on ‘Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs)’. In the years ahead, this path-breaking initiative on NCDs, with global commitment, is expected to make a huge difference in the lives of many, across the world.
NCDs have now been identified as a key healthcare challenge of this century and include ailments like, cardiovascular, chronic pulmonary diseases, diabetes, arthritis and cancer. In the developing countries, over 80% of all deaths are related to NCDs.
There are times when NCDs raise issues related to social justice and human rights. For example, in a country like India where out of pocket expenses towards healthcare is around 80%, a major illness like cancer even in a middle income group family, can drive the entire household to huge socioeconomic hardship.
NCDs are preventable:
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adequate physical activity, healthy diet/nutrition and tobacco avoidance can prevent:
- 80% of premature heart disease
- 80% of type II diabetes
- 40% of cancers
Currently, as we shall see below, immunization is also being considered as a preventive therapy for certain types of NCDs.
NCDs may be of infectious origin:
Dr. Bennett Lorber in his article titled, ‘Are All Diseases Infectious?’, published in the ‘Annals of Internal medicine’ wrote that many common NCDs like, cardiovascular, diabetes, peptic ulcer, arthritis and even certain types of cancer originate from infections by micro-organisms.
Mainly because of this reason and its consequent adverse socioeconomic impact, the low and middle income countries of the world will require controlling many types of infections, possibly through immunization, before they ultimately develop into NCDs. Such measures, in turn, will help them reducing the risk factors of morbidity and mortality related to NCDs.
Infections and NCDs:
As indicated above by Dr. Bennett Lorber, following are some examples of reported relationship between infection and NCDs:
Reactive arthritis or spondyloarthropathy has been known to follow intestinal infection with Salmonella typhimurium and Yersinia enterocolitica or urethral infection with Chlamydia trachomatis.
Scientists from the United Kingdom have already announced that they will soon begin human trial of an experimental rheumatoid arthritis vaccine.
Peptic Ulcer and Gastric Carcinoma:
Helicobacter pylori is known to cause of gastritis and peptic ulcer disease and is an important risk factor for gastric carcinoma.
Researchers at Rhode Island Hospital in collaboration with the University of Rhode Island and EpiVax Inc, have identified a potential vaccine to reduce colonization of Helicobacter pylori, which is known to cause peptic ulcer and gastric carcinoma.
Acute Renal Failure:
It was reported that about 10% of infected persons younger than 10 years of age develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, and as many as 75% of cases of the syndrome in the United States are complications of intestinal infection with E. coli.
The most common cause of vascular damage in secondary vasculitis is now considered to be related to different types of microorganisms. Patients were reported to have developed polyarteritis nodosa a few months after having hepatitis B infection.
It is widely reported that in the developed countries most common vasculitis is related to hepatitis B and C. However, in the developing world HIV related vasculitis appears to be common.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS)/ Crohn’s Disease:
The precise etiology of Crohn’s Disease though remains to be conclusively deciphered, it is believed by many researchers that the disease develops due to a reaction to a persistent intestinal infection in vascular endothelial cells.
A good number of experts support a link between infection with enteroviruses in the pancreata and insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.
To arrest or slow the autoimmune response that destroys insulin-producing cells in diabetes, it has been reported that the Diamyd vaccine, now in Phase III clinical trial in both USA and Europe, has shown very promising results.
Coronary Artery Disease:
A study published in the journal of ‘Clinical Infectious Disease’, Volume 40, Issue 8 ‘demonstrates a significant association between high titers to C. pneumoniae IgG and IgA and acute Myocardial Infarction (MI) in a cohort of young men and suggests that recent or chronic active infections could be associated with an increased risk for MI.’
In other studies also, patients with acute myocardial infarction were found to have elevated serum antibody levels to Chlamydia pneumoniae. This opens up possibility of preventing heart attacks with a vaccine.
The US FDA has already approved two types of vaccines for cancer prevention:
- Vaccines against the hepatitis B virus, which can cause liver cancer.
- Vaccines against human papillomavirus, which are responsible for about 70% of cervical cancers.
In addition, US FDA has also approved another cancer vaccine for metastatic prostate cancer.
A type of cancer known as Kaposi sarcoma is linked to an infectious agent found in patients with acquired immune-deficiency syndrome. Scientists are in the process of developing treatment vaccines against many types of cancer.
In the field of NCD, a not so widely publicized scientific revolution is in the making. Many well researched findings have, to a great extent, established that infectious agents could be the causative/precipitative or risk factors for NCDs like, chronic pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer.
The moot question raised by Dr. Bennett Lorber earlier: ‘Are all diseases infectious?’, is gradually getting answered through intensive scientific research. Otherwise, who would have thought, until recently, that vaccines could be developed for diabetes, certain types of cancer or even peptic ulcer?
Such path breaking scientific research findings are, in turn, creating a hope and opportunity for disease prevention through immunization for many NCDs, especially for the developing nations of the world.
It is very heartening to know that United Nations (UN) have taken note of these revolutionary developments in the ‘Non Communicable Disease’ space and are deliberating on the effective ways to combat NCDs caused by infections with the development and use of appropriate vaccines.
The entire world eagerly awaits more actionable outcome of the ongoing scientific quest to decipher the mystery related to many more NCDs to ensure better health of mankind of the Planet Earth.
By: Tapan J Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.