UNDP has unique role to play in fighting non-communicable diseases | Olav Kjørven
18 Oct 2012
A year after the first UN High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases, The Washington Post this week convened an expert panel to review what progress has occurred and what work remains to fight diseases such as cancer, diabetes, stroke, and depression.
A small invited audience on site and much larger audience online heard alarming statistics. Among them: One-third of humanity is projected to suffer from diabetes by the year 2050, according to the US Centers for Disease Control.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are leading causes of death and illness in developed and emerging economies alike—they account for the majority of health-care needs and spending and contribute to some 36 million, or 63 per cent, of 57 million deaths around the world every year.
As the medical journal The Lancet has written, these diseases amount to a worldwide emergency requiring a global response that has to date fallen far short. According to the journal: “Despite the threat to human development, and the availability of affordable, cost-effective, and feasible interventions, most countries, development agencies, and foundations neglect the crisis.”
Low- and middle-income countries bear the brunt, accounting for nearly 80 percent of global NCD deaths. These diseases drag down economic growth and can push families into devastating poverty. China, India, and Russia are estimated to lose US$23 to 53 billion yearly as a result of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
But we still have reason to hope.
The World Health Assembly set a global target this year of reducing NCD-related mortality by 25 percent by 2025. That’s a powerful achievement in itself: We’ve seen from the Millennium Development Goals the catalytic power of global targets and a shared vision.
Three decades of responding to HIV/AIDS has also taught us a great deal about how the international development community can work with governments, the private sector, and civil society to take aim at such a crisis. The health sector alone cannot tackle all the issues related to NCD prevention and care, including trade, legislation, food and beverage industry behavior, urban planning, outreach, and taxes.
Taking steps toward limiting tobacco and sodium consumption would by themselves yield enormous health benefits globally.
But fighting NCDs also means taking specific aim at health threats where they threaten most: unhealthful food imports in the Pacific, widespread tobacco use in Indonesia, high alcohol intake in Eastern Europe. And trade pacts mustn’t undermine national efforts to regulate substances detrimental to public health.
UNDP can leverage its universal presence, expertise, and convening power to ensure that countries share data and best practices with one another, while we scale up support for strong, country-led programmes and partnerships.
We can apply what we have learned and take aim at these diseases as a matter of governance and human rights—including who has access to quality preventive and curative services, who can afford healthful food, and who is entitled to affordable treatment.
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