Sunday, September 25, 2011

Historic U.N. Meeting Addresses the Global Impact of Non-Communicable Diseases

CNN: U.N. Adopts Political Declaration on Non-Communicable Diseases
Council on Foreign Relations: Global Action on Non-Communicable Disease
Reuters: UN Assembly Backs Steps to Fight Chronic Disease
UN: High-Level Meeting on Non-communicable Diseases

In a landmark United Nations (U.N.) summit, world leaders converged for the first ever high-level meeting to address non-communicable diseases (NCDs)—the leading cause of death across the globe. Non-communicable diseases, such as cancer or heart disease, are diseases that do not pass from one person to another. The General Assembly (GA) addressed prevention and control of four groups of NCDs: cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes. This week’s session represents only the second time in U.N. history that a global health issue commanded the attention of the GA, after it addressed the global AIDS epidemic nearly ten years ago.

In addition to lost lives, the economic costs of NCDs add to their total impact. NCD’s kill more than 36 million people each year and the World Economic Forum estimates that NCDs will cost the global economy $47 trillion over the next 20 years. Though NCDs are increasing dramatically world-wide, most developing nations are ill-equipped to effectively deal with major health problems due to a lack of equipment, well-trained doctors, and medicines. This reality is especially problematic considering more than 80% of NCD deaths occur in low- and moderate-income nations. With the exception of Africa, NCDs cause more deaths and illness world-wide than communicable diseases like HIV and malaria that generally receive more attention from the international community. Even in developed nations, NCDs create a substantial drag on the economy and highlight the issue of unequal access to medical care.

To combat NCDs, member nations unanimously adopted a “political declaration” calling for implementation of collaborative efforts between governments and the private sector to reduce risk factors, such as obesity and tobacco and alcohol use. The declaration highlights the need for comprehensive health care, calls for assistance to developing countries, and mandates the coordination of local, national, and international efforts to promote healthier lifestyle choices. The broad language of the declaration also touches on key health issues such as breast feeding, cancer screenings, and medical research. The declaration calls on the World Health Organization to prepare global target goals and an international monitoring framework by the end of 2012.

The practical effect of a U.N. political declaration elevates NCD’s on the global health agenda and provides the basis for governmental action at national and global levels. Private and public funding for such initiatives will likely increase as collective awareness rises. The declaration will be part of the U.N.’s permanent record delineating global development priorities and will provide a foundation for further collaborative efforts among member nations. By recognizing the impact of NCDs and addressing root causes, the measures proposed by the U.N. seek to limit the negative effect of NCDs on social and economic development worldwide.

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