The changing face of global health concerns

“First world problem” has become the shorthand term du jour for those poking fun at the minor inconveniences which characterise living in the developed world.

Wrong coffee order? That’s a first world problem. Patchy wifi connection? There’s another.

But health issues that we traditionally associate with comfortable western lifestyles – such as obesity, diabetes, smoking related illnesses and more – are gaining prevalence throughout the developing world and changing the way medical providers need to respond.

Non-communicable diseases – as these health issues are known – are often overlooked, misdiagnosed or mistreated in countries where medical infrastructure or education is poorly lacking.

Dr John Quinn, Tangiers International’s medical advisor and an expert in the health challenges faced in remote or underdeveloped parts of the world, said: “It’s a global health scourge.

“It used to be that non-communicable diseases only affected wealthy countries. In the past, people in less-developed countries may well die before they developed these problems.

“But what we see now is a lot of issues combining. People have more access to unhealthy foods and drinks as well as tobacco and alcohol. They often live more of an urban, sedentary lifestyle.”

Tangiers International operates in some of the world’s most dangerous or remote regions meaning that assessing and treating these health issues can be complicated by political instability, conflict, poor infrastructure and a lack of access to primary healthcare.

A 2018 case in an active conflict zone highlighted how – even amongst the chaos of war – ‘lifestyle illnesses’ could be a primary concern for a patient’s health.

Tangiers International received the medical notes for the local national patient with symptoms including deteriorating cardiac health as well as systematic damage to his kidneys and liver.

“At first, we did not have access to the treating doctor and nothing made sense about the patient’s condition,” explained Dr Quinn. “He had experienced a very significant deterioration in health. Why would this young guy be developing symptoms that we would expect from a 70-year-old?”

Further investigation revealed that the patient had developed a serious and habitual drug habit which had damaged his organs over many years.

With continuing conflict ruling out the chance of receiving adequate treatment at home, Tangiers International immediately began preparations to get the patient medically evacuated to a neighbouring country for definitive diagnostics and treatment.

But war is far from the only reason non-communicable diseases pose an increased risk in undeveloped or unstable parts of the world.

“The misuse of prescription drugs is also a massive issue,” explained Dr Quinn. “When people don’t have access to primary healthcare, they self treat. They buy cheap blood sugar and blood pressure monitors and then start taking pills. Their pharmacist becomes their GP so there’s no real diagnostics.

“There is also no quality control mechanism to ensure that the drugs people are obtaining are legitimate. So people end up taking medicine which has nothing of the primary substance or it has significantly less than the efficacious dose.”

The changing face of health risks around the world is paramount to Tangiers International’s mission of ensuring patients benefit from best practice.

By adapting to emerging trends, Tangiers ensures that the patient’s health is prioritised – “first world problem” or otherwise.