A call for a strong and united battle against Non-communicable diseases (NCDs)
Seoul-17 March 2011—Today, government representatives of the Western Pacific Region will have an opportunity to signal to their brothers and sisters around the globe that it is time to stop ignoring a group of diseases that is responsible for more deaths than any other. Non-communicable diseases (NCD) – including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases – kill 35 million people every year. And that number is rising steadily: while today NCDs cause 60 percent of deaths worldwide, they are projected to account for more than 75 per cent of global deaths by 2030.
There are four primary risk factors for NCDs – unhealthy diets, lack of physical activity, harmful use of alcohol and, the one common to all these diseases, tobacco use. Tobacco use kills almost 3,000 peoplein the Western Pacific Region everyday; compared to other World Health Organization (WHO) regions, the Western Pacific has the most smokers, the highest rates of male smoking and the fastest rise of smoking uptake among women and youth.
We can take important steps to begin to cut the grim toll of NCDs. A meeting begins today here in Seoul, to consult the people of the Western Pacific region about the agenda of the United Nations Summit on NCDs, which will be held in New York on 19-20 September. The NCD regional consultations is a key occasion for our citizens to set priorities for the Summit, which is expected to produce a global plan for seriously tackling NCDs. This blueprint should begin by acknowledging that NCDs have been overlooked as a global health priority, and that they must be placed on the agenda of international development, be incorporated into regional cooperation processes, and integrated into national strategies for sustainable growth.
Healthy societies in our region can be built only when our populations are healthy. When the disease burden is not addressed, our collective future is put at risk. Heart disease, stroke and diabetes are alreadyestimated to cost low- and middle-income countries as much as five per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP). Such statistics are why in 2011 the World Economic Forum called chronic disease amajor societal risk. “The well-being of your workforces, your very productivity and reputation are all at stake,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon told the business leaders gathered at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in January.
Officials who are present in this meeting must deliver the message that taking action against these killer diseases is an investment in our people’s health, another building block that – if carefully andcollaboratively constructed – will support and strengthen the bigger global project to spur sustainable development and growth in all regions of the world. Officials must also advocate for the following:
· Heads of State must attend the UN Summit. Although the Summit documents will be
prepared well in advance of the actual meeting, having the top leaders in attendance will
attract media interest and ‘buzz’ that will propel the Summit to the world stage. Once the
spotlight moves off, only those leaders carry the political weight to ensure that pledges
made in New York will be translated into national plans;
· The participation of civil society in all consultations and pre-Summit activities. Civil society
has been instrumental in advancing global health, including in the creation of the
international tobacco treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The
WHO-FCTC sets out specific steps governments must take against tobacco use, including to:
Adopt tax and price measures to reduce tobacco consumption; Ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship;
Create smoke-free work and public spaces; Put prominent health warnings
on tobacco packages; Combat illicit trade in tobacco products;
· Recognition of the crucial role that tobacco control plays in the prevention of NCDs, as it is
generally easier and cheaper to prevent disease than to cure it. The Summit’s Outcomes Statement
should include specific commitments to accelerated and effective implementation of the WHO-FCTC,
recognising that it provides the framework for international cooperation;
· A strong consultation process to ensure that the Summit produces an Outcomes Statement with a concrete plan of action, clear targets, and accountability mechanisms.
Neglect has allowed NCDs to become one of the most dangerous health epidemics that human beings have ever faced. But that can change: Tobacco killed 100 million people in the last century; but we can prevent 1 billion more possible premature deaths from these diseases that kill our family members and friends in this century. Launching a coordinated and aggressive campaign against these diseases requires first political will; and that is a message that must be heard here in Seoul, and at the other consultations to be held in other regions around the world, and then delivered at the UN Summit in September.
Dr. Judith Mackay
World Lung Foundation
t: +1.212.639.0062 f: +1.212.639.0063
61 Broadway, Suite 2800
New York, NY 10006