An expert in bone health based in Cornwall is leading a global alliance to call for urgent action to tackle crippling musculoskeletal conditions.
Professor Anthony Woolf, from Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust (RCHT), said more must be done to deal with issues like back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis.
According to a study published in The Lancet about the impact of all diseases and risk factors, musculoskeletal conditions have the fourth greatest impact on the overall health of the world population, taking both death and disability into account. Researchers say this burden has increased by 45 per cent in the last 20 years and will continue to increase unless action is taken.
Prof Woolf, who chairs the Bone and Joint Decade (BJD) International Co-ordinating Council, said that, in Cornwall, one in four adults suffer from musculoskeletal conditions affecting both their health and sometimes their ability to work. He said with people living longer and expected to work for longer, bone health was a growing concern.
"Across the world, health policy has ignored diseases which affect the quality of lives and independence of people living with them and focused on those with high mortality such as infectious diseases, and more recently on cancer, heart disease and diabetes," he said. "Now it is time for priority to be placed on dealing with this enormous burden from arthritis, back pain and other musculoskeletal conditions to prevent unnecessary pain and disability.
"Despite effective ways of preventing and treating these conditions, many people do not have access to them because they are not a priority.
"This data justifies what the BJD has been campaigning for over the past ten years. If we want to improve public health, provide cost-effective care and keep people with long-term conditions independent and in work, the treatment and management of musculoskeletal disorders is clearly where the big wins are, and that's where the attention needs to be."
Prof Woolf recently visited Kenya to help train health workers to deal with musculoskeletal conditions.
RCHT medical director Paul Upton said: "It is fantastic to have someone of Professor Woolf's calibre working here. We are keen to support his work internationally, nationally and right here in Cornwall where his work is having real benefits for the community."