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Harlem State Plaza, New York City, NY

16 September 2011

Dr. Mirta Roses

Director

Pan American Health Organization

PAHO/WHO in Harlmen, New York: Gettting ready for the launch of Wellness Week in the Americas hosted by The Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, and co-organized by  the New York Academy of Medicine, the City College of New York, Harlem Hospital Center and Emblem Health.  Thank you for your commitment to wellness and leadership of Wellness Week. 

Wellness Week was inspired initially by Caribbean Wellness Day, celebrated each year on 13 September by countries in the Caribbean to raise public awareness about noncommunicable diseases(NCDs) and prevention through healthy living.  The idea of a Wellness Week in New York grew out of efforts  to mobilize the Caribbean diaspora in New York City around Caribbean Wellness Day.  When I first introduced the idea of Wellness Week in Davos at the 2011 meeting of the World Economic Forum, there was tremendous interest from the business community in creating a wide social movement on wellness and healthy living. The idea also took hold with government officials and colleagues from nongovernmental organizations, who committed their support.  Today I am proud to say that in just 10 months since the idea emerged,  Wellness Week has some 13 organizations leading activities across New York City, and 12 countries throughout the Americas are sponsoring Wellness Week events similar to the one we are celebrating today.  I believe this is just the beginning of the change we need to create healthier environments for healthy living and prevention of chronic diseases.

As we gather today in the heart of Harlem--a transformed neighborhood in one of the world’s greatest cities—our timing is significant: Heads of governments and civil society leaders will be gathering here in New York on 19 and 20 September for the first United Nations High-Level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases, where they will discuss the challenges, policies and options for tackling the rapid growth of chronic diseases in rich and poor countries alike.   

Five percent of the Global Gross Domestic Product is now being spent on care for chronic diseases, and three out of five people will die from these preventable diseases, cutting short lives that should be productive and fulfilling. The chronic nature of illnesses like diabetes, cancer, lung and heart disease creates a major economic burden  for patients and their families. As a result, millions of families  are falling into poverty. The United Nations High-Level Meeting will focus global attention on the urgent need to prevent and control NCDs. 

The messages of Wellness Week—Be Well, Stay Well together with a vibrant logo illustrating vitality-will reach delegates from around the world who are attending this UN meeting.  In fact, the Wellness Week messages are wonderfully displayed throughout the New York City subways.  We are showing that a social movement is under way to promote healthy settings for healthy living.  We are coming together to raise awareness among individuals, families, communities, employers, and governments about the need to support healthy behaviors through social action and through public policies that shape environments in which people can exercise their right to be healthy and stay healthy. 

Where better to do this than right here in New York City, which through its public policies is setting examples on how to confront the growing epidemic of NCDs.  We applaud the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, under the leadership of health commissioner Thomas Farley, for their unprecedented efforts in NCDs prevention:

  • Eliminating smoking in public places, not only restaurants and closed settings, but also parks and beaches;
  • Making fresh produce available to residents, with economic incentives for delivering fresh foods to disadvantaged areas;
  • Eliminating industrialized trans fats in restaurant foods;
  • Reducing salt in foods; and
  • Displaying the calorie content of fast-food menus. 

Your city’s streets are safer for walking and cycling and you have increased the availability, affordability and accesibility of public transportation. New York City is a leader in active design for buildings, homes, streets, and parking lots, and you have public spaces that encourage active living. 

All this progress has improved the quality of life in New York, but it has done more than that. According to a recent New York City Vitals Report, these interventions prevent some 6,300 deaths annually, while reducing illness and disability.  

New York City recognizes a critical truth: that better health is not just a matter of individual choices. Rather, public policies are key to making healthy living viable and sustainable by shaping the environments in which children and youths, adults and senior citizens live, play, work, and travel.  Public policies are needed to make the healthy choices the easy choices to ensure every individual grows well and stays well.  

In launching Wellness Week, we are sending a message to governments, communities and individuals: that social action connected with public policies is a key part of the solution to the epidemic of NCDs. I know that people, cities, and social movements throughout our hemisphere are eager to join such efforts, and I look forward to seeing your great city continue to lead the way.   

Let us all celebrate a long and healthier life for all and make sure the next generation, those that are being born now and tomorrow, are free from NCDs. 

Last Updated on Sunday, 26 August 2012 15:51

Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization
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