Noncommunicable diseases and mental health

NMH Newsletter

Issue 1, January 2011

Chronic diseases and health promotion

World on cusp of radical shift in prevention and control of NCDs

The clock is counting down to a historic moment in the fight against cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and chronic lung diseases: the September 2011 United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases.

On 10 May 2010, the General Assembly resolved to stage a High-level Meeting of heads of state and government to tackle the health, development and socioeconomic impacts of these four primary NCDs.

The resolution noted the need for concerted action and a coordinated response at the national, regional and global levels in order to adequately address the developmental and other challenges posed by non-communicable diseases, in particular the four most prominent groups of non-communicable diseases, namely, cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes.

Awareness around the terrible toll these four diseases inflict in both health and economic terms is at its highest level in decades, as is global willingness to make a game-changing shift in the way we protect populations from NCDs in both health and economic terms. The United Nations family and governments worldwide, as well as civil society and members of the private sector, the are anxious to ensure that next September achieves a truly historic set of results in the fight against NCDs.

The statistics are clear: 35 million people die annually (or over 60% of all deaths globally) from these four diseases. Over 9 million of these people were aged under 60 years, representing lives that are lost prematurely. And the overwhelming majority of these premature deaths are occurring in developing nations.

The causes are also clear. These four NCDs share four common risk factors: tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity and poor diet. The world has at its disposal measures that target risk factors, and if effectively applied millions of people will be able to live healthier, longer lives, instead of falling victim to these diseases.

Among these tools are the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which is the world’s most powerful tool to protect people from the deadly affects of tobacco use. The Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health aims to protect and promote health and reduce disease and death rates. The Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol provides policy action and interventions to tackle this worrying risk factor. And the overarching 2008-2013 Action Plan for the Global Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases shows how multiple interventions can be brought together to combat NCDs.

The World Health Organization sees the 2011 UN High-level Meeting as a monumental milestone that can meet the calls being made by many countries to increase the priority given to NCDs, reduce their socioeconomic and development impacts, and lead to greater attention given to NCDs within global development initiatives. Doing so can save lives, help alleviate poverty and allow people and their countries to be better able to achieve a range of long-lasting gains.

UN General Assembly Discussion on WHO Report on NCDs

A report by WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan was discussed at the UN General Assembly on 23 November that dealt with the global status of non-communicable diseases, with a particular focus on the development challenges faced by developing countries. The report reviews the current status of NCDs by WHO and countries to implement the 2008-2013 Action Plan for the Global Strategy for the Prevention and Control of NCDs.

Ambassadors and permanent representatives of Member States in New York made interventions in support of the conclusions of the report and the preparations their countries are making for the 2011 High-level meeting.

MDG Summit 2010: NCDs side-event

WHO organised a side event on NCDs on 20 September 2010 during the first day of the UN General Assembly session and the MDG Summit at the United Nations in New York. The side event, co-sponsored by Oman and Iraq, was held to brief Member States on the preparations for the September 2011 HLM.

Member States and WHO highlighted the links between NCDs and the attainment of the MDGs. Addresses were delivered by a large number of Member States, represented by levels of deputy ministers, ministers of foreign affairs and health.

WHO European Regional Consultation on NCDs

Photo of Minister of Health of Norway, and WHO Assistant Director-General
Dr Alwan, WHO Assistant Director-General, and Anne Grete Strom Erichsen, Minister of Health of Norway, at the Oslo meeting 2010

Ministers and officials from around 40 European countries met in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, during 25-26 November 2010 as part of the build-up to the 2011 UN NCDs summit.

NCDs are becoming a major health challenge all over the world and the cost of not taking action is unacceptable," said Norwegian Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen.

"Countries in the European region need to share our own domestic experience with other nations on what does and does not work in the fight against NCDs."

Key outcomes of the European high-level consultation included the following messages:

  • Iincreasing priority given to NCDs in national health plans.
  • Many countries want NCDs included in global development initiatives and related investment decisions.
  • NCDs are a threat to development that neither the developed nor developing worlds can afford.
  • Additional research is needed to halt and reduce premature death from NCDs.

Need to implement cost-effective policy interventions to reduce public exposure people to NCD risk factors and strengthen health care services for people with such diseases.

In Europe, NCDs annually account for more than 8 million deaths (over 80% of all deaths in the region), including 1.5 million people who died under the age of 60 years. Three out of four premature deaths from NCDs in the European region occur in low- and middle-income countries (i.e. 1.1 million). The diseases also take a strong financial toll on Europe’s health systems and may threaten their viability. Further, NCDs constitute an economic burden, with health care costs, lost working time, and early death and disability threatening economic growth and productivity.

"We urgently need to address the growing epidemic of noncommunicable diseases in Europe and mobilize all sectors of society to build a truly large-scale, multisectoral response," said Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. "European countries should play a leading role in the global effort to control this epidemic."

"The considerable and emerging burden caused by NCDs is of great concern to policy-makers in Europe as well as worldwide," said Mr Jonas Gahr Støre, Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs. "The United Nations global summit on NCDs and the WHO consultation in Oslo provide us with vital opportunities to discuss and share experiences in this field."

Nongovernmental organizations are also key partners in this process. "The importance of close collaboration with civil society is for sure one of the experiences I would like to share with my international colleagues in regard to preventing and tackling NCDs," said the Norwegian health minister, Ms Anne-Strøm-Erichsen.

The Oslo consultation was hosted by the Norwegian government and co-sponsored by WHO, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Among the officials in attendance were ministers and officials from health, finance and foreign affairs portfolios, underscoring the importance of multilateral action.