Helen Clark: Fostering international cooperation and coordination to address non-communicable diseases

Sep 20, 2011

Remarks by Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
UN Summit on Non-communicable Diseases Round Table 3:
Fostering international cooperation and coordination to address non-communicable diseases

Tuesday, 20 September 2011
UN ECOSOC Chamber, 10:00 – 1:00


This UN Summit, the first to focus on non-communicable diseases, is in itself testament to the importance of global co-ordination and co-operation to fight these diseases.

The WHO and its Global Status Report on NCDs, have played a critical role in exposing the threat posed by rapidly increasing rates of diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular and chronic lung diseases, and other NCDs. WHO reports that NCDs are the leading cause of death around the world. They are also a growing barrier to development, given that eighty percent of total deaths caused by NCDs in 2010 occurred in developing countries.

Such findings, and the concerted efforts of many to make them better known, played an important role in generating the international awareness which led to the organization of this Summit.

To get ahead of these alarming NCD trends and understand their underlying causes, we need to improve the global and national surveillance and monitoring of NCDs, and of the risk factors which underlie and drive their prevalence.

Many NCDs are preventable. Understanding and addressing their causes offers the potential to save human life, improve its quality, and reduce premature mortality. It will also help to accelerate efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the world’s internationally agreed development targets.

Many NCDs have profound socio-economic impacts. They can affect well-being, and impair people’s ability to work, attend school, and care for children. That limits human potential and diminishes economic contributions. NCDs are not only a global health challenge, but also a global development challenge.

Development brings with it the possibilities of putting in place strategies, policies, systems, and initiatives which can prevent the conditions in which NCDs flourish, and provide the services people need in order to live fuller, more productive lives.  To help achieve that, development and health actors need to be working alongside each other to address the socio-economic determinants of health.

Unhealthy diets, limited physical activity, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption all contribute significantly to the increasing rates of NCDs. They do not represent behavioral choices made in a vacuum. They are influenced variously by practices passed on through generations, poverty, social pressure, and professional marketing. With rapid development and globalization, for example, processed foods with little nutritional value can become status symbols.

What is important is to disrupt the chain of events which leads to poor health outcomes.

Public health campaigns have proved to be effective in limiting tobacco and alcohol intake and improving nutrition. Promoting healthy lifestyles is also important.

Healthy options need to be made accessible and affordable to the poor. As well, unhealthy options can be actively discouraged, by, for example, increasing the cost of toxic substances like tobacco. An intervention like that will not only reduce smoking prevalence and the incidence of cancer, but will also improve general health.

National efforts need to be complemented by co-ordinated global action; for example, to ensure that essential medicines, including in generic forms, are cost-effective and accessible. Increasing development assistance for basic health is also crucial. In 2009, ODA to basic health was only three per cent of total ODA.

Across the UN development system, we must work together more to improve health outcomes, both as an objective in its own right and as a means of advancing human development.

The UN can help countries learn from each other, about effective strategies and policies to address NDCs. Through its work to strengthen national statistical capacity, the UN can help countries monitor NCD risk factors. Reference to those could be included in national MDG progress reports, to make the connections between NCDs, MDGs, and the fight against poverty more visible.

The UN development system can also help develop national capacities to address NCDs. It is essential to breakdown the silos between sectors, MDGs, and disciplines, and employ a problem-solving approach. The UN’s MDG Acceleration Framework offers that, by helping to identify MDG solutions across sectors which contribute to meeting specific MDG targets, including those in the health area.

Health professionals and development practitioners need to work together to maximize the positive health impact of development work, and identify synergies in service delivery. One example: In South Africa HIV training was provided to women involved in microfinance programmes. Integrating health and development work can be cost-effective and lead to better results.

The potential to save lives and prevent premature mortality and illness from NCDs is high if we all go forward from this Summit seeing fighting NCDs as part of the development agenda and committed to addressing them effectively.

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