Why non-communicable diseases overseas can affect the U.S.

An Indian nurse (R) collects a blood sample from a patient using a glucometer at a free Diabetic health check up camp in Hyderabad on Nov. 1, 2009.

Jeremy Hobson: Well a lot has happened this week at the UN General Assembly in New York. But here's one warning that hasn't gotten much attention: Non-communicable diseases like stroke, cancer, and diabetes could cripple economies in the emerging world.

That's what concerns Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who joins us now. Good morning.

Thomas Frieden: Good morning.

Hobson: So you're the head of the CDC. We've got plenty of health challenges here in the U.S. -- why is it so important to you and to the United States to focus on problems overseas?

Frieden: Well we're obviously concerned when it comes to infectious diseases, but we also have connections in the non-communicable diseases. Both in terms of food and medicine safety, but also in learning lessons from each other and confronting what's now the leading cause of death, not just in rich countries, but in poor countries also: heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.

Hobson: Why are we, in the U.S., concerned about these non-communicable diseases overseas?

Frieden: One of the things that we can do is to promote healthy development in other countries, and that's good for us. Actually what we're seeing is that in the past decade, as you know, U.S. exports to developing countries have grown many times faster than exports to major economies. So if we can help countries remain healthy and vibrant, it's good for them and it's good for us.

Hobson: How much does it cost a country -- an emerging country -- to deal with these problems like diabetes or obesity or heart disease?

Frieden: It's always going to be a whole lot cheaper to prevent health problems than to treat them, even in the U.S. The care of someone with diabetes costs $6,600 more every year than the care of someone without diabetes. And for developing countries that have very limited resources, it's going to be very difficult to manage problems if they don't reduce the number of people with these conditions.

Hobson: Thomas Frieden is head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thanks so much for talking with us.

Frieden: Thank you.

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