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14 September 2011. World Health Organization (WHO) experts participating in a Washington Post forum on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) said that the growth of NCDs has become one of the biggest development challenges facing countries around the world, and next week’s United Nations summit on NCDs will highlight the global and national actions that are needed to confront that challenge.

Sir George Alleyne, Director Emeritus of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) and Dr. Ala Awan, WHO Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health, were among a number of public health experts who participated in the Washington Post Live event, held on Wednesday, Sept. 14.

Chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes were once considered “diseases of the rich,” but they now affect developing and developed countries alike. Indeed, some 80 percent of NCD deaths globally occur in lower-income countries. Moreover, NCD deaths in lower-income countries are more likely to occur in people under age 60. In Sierra Leone, for example, 56 percent of people who die from NCDs are under age 60, contrasted with only 7 percent in Sweden, said Alwan.

Next week’s United Nations High-Level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases will bring together heads of state and high-level delegates from 120 countries around the world to learn about the growing impact of NCDs, to discuss policies and actions that can help prevent and control them, and to commit their countries to a series of mutually agreed goals and targets.

PAHO Director Emeritus George Alleyne said he has urged participants in the summit to focus on four major diseases—cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases—four top risk factors—tobacco use, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, and harmful use of alcohol—and four “things to be done”—address the risk factors, strengthen health systems, provide essential medicines and technologies, and have a system of monitoring and evaluation to provide accountability.

“I am absolutely delighted that the commitment embraces all that,” said Alleyne, referring to the draft declaration that is expected to be approved at the U.N. summit next week.

Alwan said the summit will emphasize the need for a “health-in-all-policies” approach to fighting NCDs. “We need to incorporate NCDs not only into health policy but into national development policies and plans,” he said.

The summit will also help mobilize others beyond the health sector, said Alwan, including the business community and industry. Finally, it will emphasize the need for increased funding to fight NCDs, both by national governments and as part of international development assistance.

Alleyne said it will be important to keep the issue of NCDs high on the international political agenda after next week’s summit, for example, at meetings of the G-8 and the G-20 groups of countries and at the upcoming Rio + 20 summit on sustainable development. He also called on “all U.N. agencies” to join forces to fight NCDs in their different areas of work, particularly UNICEF, the World Food Program, and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Other participants in the Washington Post Live forum included Dr. Nils Daulaire, Director of the Office of Global Health Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Dr. Cristian Baeza, Director, Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank; Nerissa Cook, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs at the U.S. Department of State; and Washington Post reporter Dr. David Brown.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 15 September 2011 11:43

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