▪ Demographic and epidemiologic changes that have occurred in the past five decades in many developing countries provide new opportunities for internists from developed countries to contribute to improvements in international health. These changes, called the "health transition," are characterized by major growth in the number and proportion of middle-aged and elderly persons and in the frequency of the chronic diseases that occur in these age groups.
The health transition is the result of concentrated national and international efforts to improve maternal and child health by emphasizing primary care and community-organized outreach services. In many developing countries, such efforts have been responsible for a decrease in the birth rate; reduced maternal mortality; improved preventive services; and a vigorous therapeutic approach to infantile diarrhea and respiratory infection, which, in turn, have resulted in the reduced infant mortality and the increased life expectancy that defines the health transition. These changes, often accompanied by increasing urbanization and industrialization, are creating health problems similar to those seen in the "developed" world but are occurring in countries that have far fewer resources.
Internists interested in working in developing countries can therefore bring their skills, experience, and perspective to bear on these problems, primarily by working within well-structured programs, the aim of which is to strengthen the capacity of the organizations and institutions within these countries to cope with the rising tide of chronic adult diseases.