Many countries are falling behind on global commitments to tackle premature deaths from chronic diseases, such as diabetes, lung cancer and heart disease, new research indicates.

Experts say the risk of dying prematurely from preventable and largely treatable chronic diseases such as stroke, heart disease, and stomach cancer has declined steadily over the past decade.

But they indicate that death rates from other chronic diseases such as lung cancer, colon cancer and liver cancer are declining too slowly or worsening in many countries.

According to the study, published in The Lancet, a number of countries are falling short or behind on their commitments to reducing premature mortality from chronic diseases, or non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Among high-income countries, only Denmark, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, and South Korea are on track to meet the sustainable development goals (SDG) target for both men and women if they maintain or surpass their recent rates of progress.

The findings come as part of the second edition of the NCD Countdown 2030 report, ahead of the Global Week of Action on NCDs next week.

Researchers say NCDs currently kill more than 40 million people a year worldwide, making up seven out of 10 deaths globally.

Of these, 17 million deaths are of people younger than 70 years old and classed as premature – the majority (15 million) of these deaths are of those aged between 30 and 70.

In 2015, world leaders signed up to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 3.4 of a one-third reduction in deaths between 30 and 70 years of age from four key NCDs – cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes – by the year 2030.

Majid Ezzati, Professor of Global Environmental Health at Imperial College London, who led the study, said: “No country can reach that target by simply addressing a single disease – what is needed is a package of measures, a strong health system, which addresses prevention, early detection and treatment, tailored to the national situation.”

Dr Bente Mikkelsen, director of noncommunicable diseases, World Health Organisation, said: “Young people must lead the fight against NCDs.

“An estimated 150 million people will lose their lives too early from a noncommunicable disease over the next decade and right now NCDs are intensifying the impact of Covid-19.

“We must ensure that all NCDs are addressed in Covid-19 recovery plans so that we can turn this deadly tide.

“We cannot allow NCDs to become a generational catastrophe, where human potential is wasted, and inequality is exacerbated.”

Experts say that people living with many NCDs are being disproportionately affected by Covid-19 – they are at a considerably higher risk of suffering severe illness and dying from the disease.

At the same time, the ability to reach the UN targets is being challenged by the impact of the pandemic which is disrupting the capacity of national health services to deliver regular screening, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of NCDs.

Katie Dain, chief executive of the NCD Alliance, said: “Covid-19 has exposed how a failure to invest in effective public health to prevent NCDs and provide health care for people living with NCDs can come back to bite us.

“The good news is that all countries can still meet the 2030 targets, with sound policies and smart investments.

“NCD prevention and treatment can no longer be seen as ‘nice to have’, it must be considered as part of pandemic preparedness.”