June 13, 2008

Chronic disease: America’s health care crisis

By Mayte Prida

With the presidential election season in full swing, health care is a topic continually under the microscope. Everyone from health policy experts to individual patients wants to improve health care in America. But the only way to do this is to focus on the prevention of chronic diseases. Why? Because chronic diseases are the single greatest threat to our nation’s health and to our health care system in terms of lives lost and money spent.

Chronic diseases can be defined as ongoing, generally incurable illnesses such as asthma, arthritis, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. In the U.S., chronic diseases account for more than 75 cents of every dollar spent on health care, and are the number one cause of death and disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Consider this: We’re only half way through 2008 and already more than 600,000 people have died from chronic disease.

Chronic diseases are widespread and costly. Most importantly, they are also preventable. According to estimates from the CDC, 80 percent of heart disease or stroke cases, 80 percent of diabetes cases and about 40 percent of cancer cases could be prevented if Americans stopped smoking, exercised regularly and ate a balanced diet. These are three things we have the power to control!

Eating right and exercising are so important for the Hispanic community: In 2005, at least one in four Hispanic adults living in the U.S. was obese, according to the National Council of La Raza. To help get more people in our community physically active, the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, together with Health Foundation for the Americas, sponsors Get Up! Get Moving! an annual physical activity and Hispanic family health celebration. Events include family fun walks, dance, sports, community festivals, and partnerships with professional and Olympic athletes to promote family physical activity. Visit http://www.hispanichealth.org/vida/ to find an event in your area.

Diet and exercise play a significant role in preventing and managing chronic diseases, and so do health screenings. Regular mammograms and monthly self-checks are critical to detecting a chronic disease killing many women in our community: breast cancer. I know, because I am a breast cancer survivor. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death among Hispanic women.

Often, medicines play an important role in managing chronic conditions. Prescription medicines can help patients avoid hospital stays or prevent illness altogether, reducing costs in the long term. And there’s greater hope on the horizon. America’s pharmaceutical research companies are hard at work each day to develop newer, better medicines to treat some of the most common chronic diseases, including 277 for heart disease and stroke and 646 for various types of cancer.

While prescription drugs can help treat chronic disease and help prevent conditions from worsening, they are not the best solution. Prevention is the key. That is why the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has proudly joined with more than 85 other partners in a national, bipartisan coalition effort to battle chronic disease: the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD). Together, we hope to broaden understanding of the problem of chronic disease among our nation’s leaders so that we can better address solutions.

Mayte Prida, a nationally recognized television personality, producer and author, is a national spokeswoman for the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA), a patient assistance program clearinghouse launched in April 2005 by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)

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