Review of progress achieved in non-communicable diseases' response

15 Jul 2014

 New York: The United Nations (UN) held a 'High-level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly to undertake a comprehensive review and assessment of the progress achieved since 2011 in the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases’ last week.

The meeting, a follow up to the ‘Political Declaration of the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases’ (2011 Political Declaration) brought together high-level government representatives to discuss challenges and opportunities to guide the non-communicable disease (NCD) response beyond 2014.

World Health Organization's (WHO) Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan noted: “Eighty-five per cent of premature deaths from NCDs occur in developing countries,” dispelling any notion that NCDs are just a concern for developed nations. Dr. Chan added that “risk factors for NCDs are becoming part of the very fabric of modern society. The obesity epidemic has been getting worse, not better, for more than three decades.”

Developing countries have a lower capacity to prevent, treat and care for those affected by NCDs. These countries are facing a double burden of increasing NCD prevalence and high rates of infectious diseases — mainly HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.

In the plenary session address, United Nations Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark highlighted the relationship between NCDs and inequities: “What may be a treatable or manageable condition in a high income setting can be life-threatening in a low income one. The average age of death from cardiovascular disease in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, is at least 10 years below that in developed countries. The death rate among women in Africa because of NCDs is twice as high as the rate in high-income countries.”

NCDs - mainly cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory disease - are not just one of the world’s most pressing health concerns but also a significant development challenge. For lower and middle income countries, economic costs from the four main NCDs are predicted to exceed US$7 trillion between 2011 and 2025. This is roughly equivalent to 500 billion US dollars per year.

NCDs impede social and economic development and are driven by underlying social, economic, political, environmental and cultural factors. Action to address the underlying causes and consequences of NCDs is therefore essential, in addition to a health sector response. Engaging whole-of-government and civil society actors is imperative.

The 2011 Political Declaration called for such a comprehensive action on NCDs, recognising it as threat to the economies of many countries and emphasising the primary role and responsibility of governments. Reiterating the need for cross-sectoral response, Helen Clark said “sustainable development calls for integrated policy-making across the economic, social, and environmental spheres. To make progress we will need to revisit patterns of trade, consumption, governance, and urbanization – and not only to treat and manage disease through medical interventions.”

Dr. Chan echoed the need to act in a different way in responding to NCDs - through “fundamental changes in the way boundaries between sectors are defined.”

During the meeting, Member States committed to accelerating action at national level, including the setting of national targets for NCD prevention and control, as well as developing or strengthening national multisectoral policies and plans to achieve these national targets by 2025. They also agreed to integrate NCDs into national development plans and policies, as well as consider establishing national multisectoral coordination mechanisms.

Other commitments included capitalizing on synergies with HIV, tuberculosis, sexual and reproductive, maternal and child health responses, and tracking  international assistance and UN support, led by the WHO and coordinated by the Inter-Agency Task Force on NCDs.

Helen Clark concluded that “UNDP stands ready to work with the World Health Organization, other UN agencies, civil society, and other partners to support Member States to accelerate the implementation of comprehensive national responses for the prevention and control of NCDs. Without more dramatic action, the threat to sustained human development from these diseases is very high.”