Director-General's Office

Closing speech at the WHO Global Conference on Noncommunicable Diseases

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus closing speech at the WHO Global Conference on Noncommunicable Diseases

Montevideo, Uruguay
20 October 2017

Your Excellency Tabaré Vasquez, President of Uruguay, Honourable ministers, Regional Directors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

This week has been an extremely emotional one.

Our hearts have gone out to the family and loved ones of our dear friend, Dr Mahmoud Fikri, whose sudden passing on Tuesday was felt deeply by the World Health Organization and many people in this room today.

We were all saddened.

Then there has been the great hope and energy generated by this Global Conference on Noncommunicabe diseases.

We have achieved so much in what seems such a short period of time.

The launch of the Montevideo Roadmap on NCDs as a Sustainable Development Priority is a milestone for a new era.

It gives direction for meeting the essential SDG target of saving millions of people from succumbing to these diseases, while promoting the attainment of the highest levels of mental health and wellbeing.

The Roadmap is the result of a truly international process, one led by the governments of Uruguay, Finland and Russia, to ensure the promotion of health is at the heart of all areas of government.

It has shown that NCDs prevention and control, and the promotion of mental health, are central to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

We witnessed strong commitment from heads of state and government, from Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Zimbabwe and our kind hosts, Uruguay.

More of this is needed. When it comes to NCDs and mental health, real change starts at the top.

But here in Montevideo we have achieved even more. Around 400 people have participated in rich, powerful sessions and workshops. The lessons we have learned from you will help guide our response going forward.

I want to thank and congratulate you for sharing your wisdom and enthusiasm.

The Conference has offered a stark reminder of the urgent need for accelerated action to protect people today and tomorrow from NCDs and their causes, from tobacco to foods and drinks high in salt, sugar and trans fats. Action on improving mental health also took centre stage.

Participants have truly provided wisdom and insights that will enrich and inform our work going forward. I am satisfied, but the most important thing will be the action.

And where are we going?

Next year’s 3rd United Nations High-level Meeting on NCDs and mental health in New York presents countries, WHO and the broader UN system a litmus test.

This effort will need the support of four key parties.

First, a major feature of preparations for the UN NCDs meeting will be the work of the WHO High-level Commission on NCDs and Mental Health, that we are honoured to have President Vazquez co-chair with Dr Sania Nishtar, from Pakistan.

Their leadership of the Commission will be vital for the process WHO will lead to prepare for the UN meeting.

To President Vazquez and Dr Nishtar, we are grateful for your support, and very much looking forward to the results of your work. I felt humbled and honoured when you accepted my call, Mr President and Sania. Everybody has confidence in both of you. I count on you to make a big difference.

Second, we will be recruiting even more high-level champions and ambassadors from all regions of the world to help drive this process forward. We will need many champions and influencers to mobilize everybody.

We saw in 2011 that 34 heads of state and government participated in the first UN High-level Meeting on NCDs and mental health, but at the second meeting in 2014 there were none? It is this apparent leadership vacuum that we have focused on here in Montevideo, and which we are determined to fill next year in New York.

This way, we will go into 2018 in full force, demonstrating real gains and deciding on even more ambitious action going forward to protect people and safeguard society from NCDs and promote mental health.

Third, we will benefit in this process from the commitment of the UN Secretary-General, a strong supporter of addressing NCDs and promoting the mental health and well-being of all people. I have been so impressed by his commitment to NCDs and mental health.

But, this whole effort leading up to New York in 2018 will rely heavily on the fourth part of this equation: the collaboration of civil society, academia, and philanthropies. Everybody is needed, we have to work together. I have met with civil society twice, and I was so encouraged by their level of engagement, and the concrete work we will do together going forward. No one should be left behind, everyone should be a player.

The networks, expertise and resources they bring is critical to our efforts to win the NCD fight and promote mental health is key. They can mobilize the whole society.

I have learned much from several meetings I have had with you over these three days, and I look forward to collaborating with you on the process to prepare for the UN High-level meeting.

I also must mention the private sector. We want to build bridges to new communities, but not at any cost. We see great potential for food and beverage makers, for example, to produce healthier options to the market. The solutions exist. But is there the will to change? I believe so.

Because without change, the epidemic of NCDs and improving mental health will continue to kill and maim millions needlessly, and hinder national development. Who wants that?

The death toll from cancer is equivalent to that of malaria, HIV and tuberculosis combined. Seventy percent of all deaths are due to NCDs, including 15 million dying between 30 and 70. More than 300 million people are living with depression, an increase of more than 18% from 2005 to 2015.

This is unacceptable.

But much of this is avoidable. It all starts from belief.

This is why the political declaration to be issued in New York next year needs to be a game changer. We must work differently.

It is clear we need to do more. Solutions are in our grasps and are readily implementable, but they are sitting on the shelves of many governments.

But with determined and committed leadership, all this can change. WHO will work side by side with all governments to help them embrace new ways of working.

The time to act is now. Our lives depend on it, as do those of our loved ones today, and the children of the future.

And from what I have seen this week, I truly believe we can succeed. I see success and determination in the President’s eyes, and in what he says.

I commend you all for your participation in this Conference, your commitment to beating NCDs and improving mental health, and your valuable contributions to the advancement of global public health.

Thank you so much. Muchas gracias.

Global Conference on NCDs