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UN Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases Is the Next Challenge, Global Health Council Experts Agree

At the end of the 38th Annual Conference of the Global Health Council, Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, co-chair of the event, analyzed and discussed with the experts the challenges to be faced on the health agenda. This coming September, the United Nations High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases will first and foremost provide an opportunity for society to gain awareness of the importance of the topic and to take action.

In the September meeting, to be held in New York, greater awareness can be generated among world leaders of the implications that these diseases have for development in their countries, affirmed Dr. Mirta Roses, Director of the Pan American Health Organization / World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) on 17 June, at the close of the annual conference. The UN meeting will also provide a venue for obtaining greater commitment from international partners and for establishing the issue as a United Nations development priority, she added.

In the ongoing preparations being made for this meeting, explained Dr. Roses, common messages arose that should be worked on: for example, a unanimous appeal for greater global leadership-at the highest level-in the area of chronic non-communicable diseases, as well as in areas outside the health sector, so that commitments can be forged for new policies and practices aimed at dealing with this problem. In addition, there is agreement that policies and practices are needed for both prevention and treatment, Dr. Roses added.

Another key message in this context is that dealing with the topic of chronic diseases should complement-not compete with-other development priorities, she indicated, adding that there is also agreement that investment must be made in chronic non-communicable diseases. Dr. Roses called upon people to think big and take advantage of this opportunity to give the entire health sector and all of society a good shake so that they face this issue.

"The great challenge will be what we do after September," affirmed Dr. Roses. She added that several of the initiatives that PAHO/WHO will take will be to ensure that the issue of chronic non-communicable diseases remains on the development agenda, as well as on other agendas, e.g. those of policy-makers at such meetings as G-8 and G-20. Dr. Roses reaffirmed that PAHO/WHO is committed to continuing its work with the ministries of health of the Americas and with partners, to catalyze and reinforce practical and political actions as will be agreed upon in the document to be approved at the United Nations.

In turn, when referring to the name of this disease group in English (NCDs = Non-Communicable Diseases), Assistant Secretary of Health of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Howard Koh, pointed out that it makes it appear as if they were not urgent diseases, when we know that they kill and that we need to take action now.

In the meantime, Felicia Knaul of the Harvard Global Equity Initiative suggested that these diseases should be assigned a new name, accompanied by a fresh look at how to reach sectors that usually do not work with these diseases. Dr. Babatunde Osometehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, said that health should be considered as both a community and a personal responsibility that goes beyond the clinic. Dr. Francis Omaswa, Executive Director of the African Centre for Global Health and Social Transformation, underlined the link between poor health and poverty.

In the panel "Policy Track: The Road to the High-level Meeting on NCDs", James Hospedales, PAHO/WHO Senior Adviser on Chronic Disease Prevention and Control, explained that commitment from heads of State is still needed vis-à-vis ensuring their attendance at the meeting, as well as backing from the countries in the processes of negotiating the documents that will result from this meeting. He pointed out that more commitment and participation is needed from the United Nations system and other strategic partners.

PAHO/WHO experts from the different subject areas participated actively in various sessions of this year's Annual Conference of the Global Health Council. Dr. Marcos Espinal, Area Manager of Health Surveillance and Disease Prevention and Control, participated in the conference on "Addressing the Policy Implications of Drug Resistance." PAHO/WHO Regional Adviser on Cancer Prevention and Control, Silvana Luciani, spoke on cancer in the panel on "Regional NCD Assessments: LAC (Latin America and the Caribbean), Europe and Eurasia." The PAHO/WHO Area Manager for Knowledge Management and Communications, Marcelo D'Agostino, gave his presentation in the panel on "Leveraging Wireless Technologies to Improve Health Information Flows."

An additional PAHO/WHO event was also held on 14 June, in which a series of reports was submitted called "Health in the Green Economy: Leveraging Big Gains for Chronic Disease Prevention at No Cost to Health Systems," on how to mitigate the effects of climate change and improve health. PAHO/WHO Deputy Director, Dr. Jon Andrus, and PAHO/WHO Area Manager for Sustainable Development and Environmental Health, Luiz Augusto Galvão, were present at this event. Among the panelists were WHO Director of the Department of Public Health and Environment, María Neira, and Dr. Carlos Dora, WHO coordinator for these reports.

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