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Pan American Forum to promote cross-sector action against non-communicable diseases

Brasilia, 11 May 2012 (PAHO/WHO) — Representatives of the public and private sectors, civil society and academia agreed in Brasilia this week to create strategic alliances involving multiple partners to work together to prevent and control non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Americas.

Agreement on the multisector alliances was reached during the first working meeting of the Pan American Forum for Action on Non-communicable Diseases (PAFNCDS), held May 8–9. 

The Pan American Forum is an initiative of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) that tackles the NCD epidemic in the Americas by mobilizing different interest groups to work together to carry out actions for the prevention and control of chronic diseases. More than 250 representatives of governments, private companies, academic institutions and civil society organizations participated in the meeting. 

Non-communicable diseases including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and chronic respiratory disease are the leading causes of death in the Americas. Three out of four people in the region suffer from one or more NCDs, and some 3.9 million people die from them each year, 1.5 million before age 70. 

"The situation we are facing is not good: 4 million dying per year, 37 percent of them under the age of 70; 145 million smokers, 139 million people overweight or obese; 30-40 percent of the adult population with hypertension; and the financial costs of the burden of these diseases have become untenable for the countries," said PAHO Deputy Director Dr. K. Andrus. 

"The good news is that there are cost-effective solutions, and studies show we could reduce NCD mortality by 24 percent by 2025, as proposed by WHO,” said Dr. Andrus. He added that in many countries, there are already initiatives involving multiple sectors working together to reduce NCDs, which the Pan American Forum could showcase and scale up throughout the region. 

"PAHO took the initiative of organizing the Forum, but its life expectancy will depend on all the partners and all those who commit to confronting this problem, not just PAHO/WHO," said Dr. Andrus. 

In opening the PAFNCDS meeting, Minister of Health of Brazil Dr. Alexandre Padilha said the creation of the Forum is "a decisive step so that the governments, civil society and the private sector can jointly adopt measures to cope with chronic diseases." 

"There are two challenges that can only be faced through a global partnership,” said Dr. Padilha. “One of them is related to economic activities that have an impact on risk factors for non-communicable diseases, such as tobacco and a healthy food supply. The other is the need to guarantee access to drugs and technologies for early diagnosis. The necessary changes will only be possible with a broad global partnership between countries, multilateral organizations and the industries involved.” 

During the meeting, representatives from the private sector shared their experiences in developing healthy workplaces and using social marketing to promote behavior change, areas they pledged to continue investing in.

Representatives of civil society said they welcomed the opportunity for multisectoral dialogue and pledged to promote and monitor the implementation of agreements reached at the meeting.

Representatives of different sectors also exchanged opinions on the PAHO Regional Strategy on NCDs and on best practices for fighting these diseases using a multisector approach. 

Working groups were formed on areas including salt reduction, tobacco control, and management of cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Participants emphasized the importance of creating healthy environments and promoting physical activity and healthy eating in the population to reduce risk factors. They also called for the development of a comprehensive communication strategy on NCDs. 

This week’s Pan American Forum meeting was organized by PAHO/WHO with the support of the Ministry of Health of Brazil. It took place following a meeting of the CARMEN (Set of Actions for the Multisectoral Reduction of Non-communicable Diseases) network, where representatives of ministries of health and civil society agreed to promote multisectoral action against NCDs, transforming the September 2011 Declaration of the United Nations High-Level Meeting on NCDs into policies, programs and concrete actions.

PAHO, which celebrates its 110th anniversary this year, is the oldest public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO.

About multisectoral action on NCDs

The Pan American Forum was created to mobilize support for action against NCDs in and beyond the health sector. Examples of multisectoral action promoted by PAHO/WHO include:

  • “Whole of society” approaches, including policies and regulations aimed at reducing tobacco consumption and exposure to second-hand smoke (tobacco control).
  • Health system changes, including cervical cancer prevention and screening programs, expanded access to health coverage and medicines for NCDs, and integrated care for NCDs.
  • “Healthy cities” initiatives, such as “Sunday bikeway” events (Ciclovías in Spanish), which temporarily close off city streets to traffic and allow cyclists and pedestrians safe spaces for physical activity.
  • “Healthy children” initiatives, including school-based exercise programs, reformulation of school meals, and elimination of junk foods in schools.
  • Healthy eating initiatives, including efforts to eliminate trans fats or reduce salt in industrially produced foods, and “5-a-day” campaigns that promote fruit and vegetable consumption at the population level to lower the risks of cardiovascular diseases, cancer and other nutrition-related NCDs.


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