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Rethinking the terms non-communicable disease and chronic disease
  1. Nigel Unwin1,
  2. JoAnne Epping Jordan1,
  3. Ruth Bonita1
  1. 1Noncommunicable Disease and Mental Health Cluster, World Health Organisation, Avenue Appia 20, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr N Unwin

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We welcome Ackland et al’s timely discussion on the terms “non-communicable” and “chronic” disease.1 Their argument is that conditions currently labelled “non-communicable” are in fact “communicable” because the risk behaviours that underlie them are highly transmissible. Thus they argue for a change in label, from “non-communicable diseases” to “chronic diseases”.

Their argument, however, confuses one classification system, which is based on cause (namely, communicable diseases compared with non-communicable diseases compared with injuries), with a second classification system, which is based on effect (namely, acute conditions compared with chronic conditions). Their argument also overlooks the growing consensus that chronic conditions include certain communicable diseases, such as HIV/AIDS.2,3 In fact, certain non-communicable conditions are acute in nature, while certain communicable conditions require chronic, ongoing care. For example, HIV/AIDS clearly has an infectious aetiology but requires long term management by the healthcare system. As …

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