Noncommunicable diseases and their risk factors

ECOSOC adopts resolution for UN to scale up action on NCDs

2 June 2016

To accelerate action on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has adopted a wide-ranging resolution, sending a strong message to members of the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on NCDs to reflect NCD-related targets of the Sustainable Development Goals in their work in countries.

People in a meeting room attending the ECOSOC meeting held in New York on 2 June 2016.
ECOSOC meeting, 2 June 2016, New York.
WHO/S Huikuri

In its resolution, ECOSOC urged the Task Force to help countries bridge public policy gaps between addressing a broad scope NCDs and their social determinants. These include exposure to environmental and occupational hazards, mental health conditions, violence, road safety, as well as communicable diseases and perinatal conditions.

This is an important move with global implications. The link between NCDs and SDGs, governed by the 2011 UN Political Declaration on NCDs and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the synergies between NCDs and other conditions, was the subject of significant discussion among delegations, many of whom welcomed the Task Force’s valuable technical assistance in countries.

“Thanks to the dedicated work of the Task Force, more and more countries incorporate programmes to combat NCDs in their national development strategies”

Mr. Sergey Kononuchenko, Deputy Permanent Representative from the Russian Federation

Since the UN Secretary-General established the Task Force in 2013 at the request of ECOSOC, it has supported country efforts to build local solutions to curb premature mortality from NCDs as part of wider sustainable development efforts.

Mr. Sergey Kononuchenko, Deputy Permanent Representative from the Russian Federation, commended the Task Force. “Thanks to the dedicated work of the Task Force, more and more countries incorporate programmes to combat NCDs in their national development strategies,” Mr Kononuchenko said. “We are seeing the first results in countries which have started to protect their peoples against exposure from risk factors for unhealthy diets, tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, and physical inactivity.”

Highlights from the WHO Director-General’s report on the Task Force’s work during the past year were presented to the ECOSOC meeting. These included joint programming missions to Democratic Republic of Congo, Mongolia, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, Paraguay, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey, all undertaken in 2016 alone.

“As a result of these joint missions, UN Country Teams are stepping up their technical assistance to governments on NCDs,” said Mr Werner Obermeyer, Deputy Executive Director, WHO Office at the United Nations in New York. “Governments, in turn, are responding by accelerating progress on specific NCD targets.”

The report considered by ECOSOC acknowledged the importance of strong cooperation between UN system organizations. It stressed progress in developing four global joint programmes to support country demands for technical assistance to strengthen national responses in the areas of cancers, cervical cancer, use of mobile phones for health, and catalyzing multisectoral action for NCDs.

The latter is a joint initiative between UNDP and WHO. It is a specific response to government requests to help establish national multisectoral mechanisms for engagement, policy coherence and mutual accountability of different spheres of policymaking that impact on NCDs.

The UNDP/WHO global joint programme also builds national capacity to increase domestic financing to implement national NCD responses.

"Efforts will need to be increased to raise resources to scale up the work of the Task Force at country level"

Dr Nick Banatvala, Senior advisor at WHO and Task Force Secretariat lead

“We are now looking for partners to make these programmes a reality on the ground,” Mr Obermeyer told ECOSOC members.

Dr Nick Banatvala, senior advisor at WHO and Task Force Secretariat lead, said the ECOSOC resolution expands the Task Force’s scope, which represented a great opportunity to advance the NCD-related targets in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“The Task Force provides a platform that can meet the rapidly increasing demand for technical assistance in mental health and also broader social and environmental determinants of NCDs,” said Dr Banatvala.

But there was a warning too. Mr Obermeyer, said additional funding is needed to ensure the continued work of the Task Force. “We have reached a tipping point. Without additional financial support, the work of the Task Force in the field will be limited,” he said. “So in the coming year, efforts will need to be increased to raise resources to scale up the work of the Task Force at country level.”

Douglas Webb, from UNDP, welcomed the Task Force’s increased scope of work but also cautioned that resources remain the limiting factor for the UN system to respond to the increasing demand for technical assistance on NCDs prevention and control. “We are being asked by over 20 governments to provide technical support to raise awareness on the national public health burden caused by NCDs, the relationship with poverty, and the cost of action vs inaction,” Dr Webb said. “The development of these national investment cases for NCD prevention and control requires funds through bilateral channels.”

Demonstrating the gains and savings to be made through action on NCDs can help countries make the business case for domestic resources to be allocated for national NCD responses. The cases highlight the potential returns on investment achieved through implementing policy options that address NCDs.

Tobacco control remains central to the Task Force’s activities. It has conducted joint missions in close collaboration with the Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, highlighting importance of pricing and taxation measures on tobacco products as a source of funding national NCD responses and an effective means of reducing tobacco consumption.

The ECOSOC also urged Task Force members to create smoke-free campuses and further develop and adopt model policies on preventing tobacco industry interference.

  • E/2016/53
    WHO’s Director-General’s report transmitted by the UN Secretary-General
  • E/RES/2016/5
    United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Disease