International health experts unveiled a master plan on Wednesday that they said could avert at least 36 million premature deaths worldwide from "lifestyle" diseases by 2015.
Without concerted efforts, they said, some 388 million people around the globe -- 80 percent of them in poorer nations -- will die over the next decade from non-communicable diseases that are now reaching epidemic proportions.
Cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, lung disease and some cancers together account for 44 percent of premature deaths, or twice as many as from all infectious diseases combined, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) figures.
"Yet the prevention of disability and death from chronic non-communicable diseases (CNDCs) gets scant attention," the experts said jointly in a commentary, published in the British journal Nature.
Most of the diseases targeted by the initiative could be averted by changing behaviour and access to known drug treatments, the scientists say.
The top culprits are smoking, sedentary lifestyle and obesity.
Longer lifespans also play a role in some of the diseases, the scientists acknowledged.
But 17 million of the deaths that could be averted through the recommended measures would be among people under 70 years old.
Modeled on the Grand Challenges in Global Health programme targeting infectious disease, spearheaded in 2003 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the new "Grand Challenges" effort lists 20 policy and research priorities to reduce the death toll from CNDCs.
The recommendations include:
· raising the "political priority" of CNCDs and promoting healthy lifestyles;
· strengthening regulations to discourage consumption of tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy foods;
· developing codes to monitor responsible conduct in the food, beverage and restaurant industries;
· studies that explore the links between CNCDs, poverty and urbanisation;
· redistributing health care resources based on burden of diseases;
· putting a big emphasis on prevention.
The initiative is supported by members of the Oxford Health Alliance, including the UK Medical Research Council, the Indian Council of Medical Research, and the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).