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Action plan for prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases

Cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes the leading threats to human health

Issues paper
28 May 2008

Tackling the global burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs)is one of the major challenges for development in the 21st century. The "Action plan for the global strategy for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases", endorsed at the 61st World Health Assembly last week, is a major step towards meeting that challenge.

The action plan is aimed at preventing NCDs from occurring in the first place and helping the millions - especially those in low- and middle-income countries - who are already sick.

A number of WHO Member States stressed that NCDs should be seen as a major development issue and be included in an amended list of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and referred to as 'MDGs Plus'.

Noncommunicable diseases -- especially cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes -- caused 60% of all deaths globally in 2005 (estimated at 35 million deaths). Total deaths from NCDs are projected to increase by a further 17% over the next 10 years. Low- and middle-income countries are the worst affected by these diseases, which are largely preventable by modifying four common risk factors: tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol.

Within the six-year NCD action plan, six objectives and numerous actions are proposed for WHO Member States, WHO Secretariat and international partners, with the purpose of mapping emerging epidemics of NCDs, reducing exposure to NCD risk factors in countries and strengthening health care for people with NCDs.

The six objectives of the NCD action plan are:

  • Raise the priority accorded to NCDs in development work at global and national levels, and integrate prevention of such diseases into policies across all government departments;
  • Establish and strengthen national policies and plans for the prevention and control of NCDs;
  • Promote interventions to reduce the main common risk factors for noncommunicable diseases: tobacco use, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol;
  • Promote research for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases;
  • Promote partnerships for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases; and
  • Monitor noncommunicable diseases and their determinants and evaluate progress at the national, regional and global levels.

The NCD plan is based on current scientific knowledge, available evidence and a review of international experience. In order for the plan to be implemented successfully, high-level political commitment and concerted involvement of governments, communities and health-care providers will be required. In addition, public health policies will need to be reoriented and allocation of resources for NCDs improved.

First steps for implementing the NCD action plan

WHO will establish an NCD advisory group in 2008 which will provide strategic and technical input, and conduct external reviews of the progress made by WHO and its partners in the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases.

The implementation of the six-year action plan will be reviewed towards the end of the first biennium, in 2009, and reprogrammed with a detailed time frame for the second and third bienniums.

There is a need to focus the resources and coordinate the efforts of the international public health community on effective action on NCDs. The resources allotted to NCD prevention and control are usually inadequate, especially when one considers the scale of the problem and the fact that it is growing year-on-year. Hence, it is important for WHO and all stakeholders to prioritize and to coordinate efforts around the actions that are needed immediately.

An important first step in WHO's technical work is to develop evidence on the most significant links between poverty and NCDs, and on effective actions that will achieve NCD prevention and control especially in communities and populations suffering from poverty.

Further, WHO must ensure that the response to NCDs is placed at the forefront of efforts to strengthen health systems. The Organization will work with international partners to develop and provide technical guidance to countries in integrating cost-effective interventions against NCDs into their health systems.

WHO's overall goal for the action plan is to support countries as they build their national capacity for NCD prevention and control. In support of national programmes, WHO will expand the NCD technical capacity of the WHO regional and country offices, and develop networks of NCD experts and collaborating or reference centres. WHO will work with international partners in this work and in particular to improve and increase opportunities for training with regard to the public health and clinical aspects of NCD prevention and control.


The foundation for the action plan is the global strategy for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases (2000), whose aim is to reduce premature mortality and improve quality of life. The plan also builds on the implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2003, and the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, endorsed by the Health Assembly a year later in 2004.

The 2008 action plan was discussed by the WHO Executive Board at its 122nd session in January 2008, and during an informal consultation with Member States, held in Geneva on 29 February 2008. In addition, the views of nongovernmental organizations and representatives of the food and non-alcoholic beverages industry were gathered at two separate meetings organized for that purpose.

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For further information please contact

Iqbal Nandra
Communications Officer - Chronic diseases and health promotion
WHO, Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 5589
Mobile: +41 79 50 90 622