Noncommunicable diseases and mental health

Why is a high-level meeting needed for the issue of NCDs prevention and control?

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Q: Why is a high-level meeting needed for the issue of NCDs prevention and control?

A: NCDs have been identified as one of the greatest challenges facing societies in the 21st century due to the great health, development and socioeconomic impacts

In all developing countries, and by any metric, heart diseases, strokes, cancers, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases now account for a large enough share of premature deaths and poverty to merit a concerted and coordinated policy response. They are already dominating health care needs in most developing countries, as a result of globalization, rapid unplanned urbanization and population ageing.

Tackling NCDs constitutes one of the major challenges for development in the twenty-first century. The global financial crisis has provided a reminder to the vulnerability of economies and health systems. Failure to reduce the impact of NCDs on developing countries will make it difficult to attain health-related Millennium Development Goals.

The High-level Meeting, therefore, will address the prevention and control of NCDs worldwide, with a particular focus on developmental and other challenges and social and economic impacts, particularly for developing countries. It is expected that the High-level Meeting will generate global momentum and commitment to implement the Global Strategy for the Prevention and Control of NCDs and its related 2008-2013 Action Plan.

The High-level Meeting offers an unprecedented opportunity to prioritize NCDs on the global agenda and secure support and commitment from heads of state and government for a coordinated global response to these diseases. This could involve a substantial increase in financial resources for NCD interventions that could stop millions of people dying prematurely and undergoing terrible suffering. The High-level Meeting can also help produce measurable targets and commitments from governments and the international community to act against NCDs.

This is only the second time the United Nations General Assembly has called such a High-level Meeting on a health issue, the first being the 2001 summit that dealt with the response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Key facts on NCDs include:

  • More than 36 million people die every year from NCDs, or 63% of all deaths worldwide.
  • Approximately one-quarter, or over 9 million of those who die from NCDs, are aged under 60 years, and are regarded as premature deaths that could be avoided.
  • Of these premature deaths, 80% of them occur in developing countries, many of which have lower levels of protection against the risk factors that cause NCDs.
  • Without action on NCDs, countries within the WHO Africa region will witness the largest rise in NCD deaths from 2004-2015, followed by the Eastern Mediterranean, South-East Asian and Western Pacific regions.
  • More people die from heart diseases and strokes in the poorest developing countries than in high-income countries.
  • Poor households in low- and lower-middle income countries smoke the most.
  • NCDs are among the leading causes of death in women in developing and high-income countries, with more women aged 15-59 years dying in Africa compared to high-income countries.
  • NCDs strain health systems in all countries, no matter the income status. This situation will only be exacerbated by the growing trend of ageing populations, which will see more people likely develop a NCD at a late stage of life.
  • Many countries have fragile health systems that are overstretched, under-resourced and in need of structural and policy reform. In many countries, health systems are also designed to deal with acute conditions rather than chronic care. These weak health systems now stand in the way of national and international efforts to respond to NCDs - the world’s fastest growing health-related challenge.
  • NCDs also place great strains on individual household budgets in all countries where insurance coverage is insufficient. In poorer countries, treatment of someone with a NCD can absorb the bulk of a household's income, depriving families of money that could have been used on basic needs like food, education and accommodation.
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UN High-level Meeting on NCD prevention and control - 19-20 September 2011

Contacts

World Health Organization - NMH
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Paul Garwood
E-mail: garwoodp@who.int