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Health Leaders Promise New Action to Reduce Chronic Diseases in the Americas

Ministers meet to prepare a regional position for upcoming U.N. summit

Washington, D.C., 4 March 2011 (PAHO) - Ministers of health and other high-level health officials from throughout the Americas called for a series of actions to reduce the toll of chronic noncommunicable diseases, in a declaration issued last week in Mexico City.

The agreement emerged from a meeting held on Feb. 24-25 to review experiences with interventions for preventing and controlling diseases including cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and chronic respiratory illness. The ministers developed a common position for the Americas to present at the High-Level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, scheduled for September in New York.

Among participants in the Mexico City meeting were Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), and Socorro Gross-Galiano, assistant director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). President Felipe Calderón of Mexico gave closing remarks.

In a related development today in Buenos Aires, more than 50 organizations from throughout the Americas launched a new Healthy Latin American Coalition, which will coordinate civil society efforts to reduce chronic diseases and promote the participation of governments in the upcoming UN summit. 

Cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory illnesses are the leading causes of death and disability throughout the Americas. In 2007, nearly 4 million people died from these diseases. In 2005, there were 139 million obese people in the hemisphere (1 in every 4 adults), and the number is expected to grow to 289 million in 2015. The chief risk factors for chronic noncommunicable diseases are tobacco consumption, alcohol use, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, and air pollution.

In their declaration, the ministers of health agreed to:

  • Take progressive steps to implement recommendations on the marketing of food and nonalcoholic beverages to children, as a way of addressing the problem of obesity, especially in children.

  • Recommend the participation by heads of state in the upcoming high-level meeting on chronic diseases at the U.N. General Assembly.

  • Promote the development of policies, environments and community initiatives that enhance basic prevention, including through physical activity and healthy diet.

  • Strengthen and reorient policies and programs for the prevention and control of these diseases by emphasizing action on the social determinants of health and behavioral risk factors.

  • Promote partnerships in the public and private sectors, including with nongovernmental organizations, and in health-related sectors including education, agriculture, industry, urban planning, and others in the development of polices and programs.

  • Promote access to comprehensive and cost-effective treatment and care for chronic diseases, including access to affordable, high-quality medicines.

  • Strengthen national health information systems and monitoring of chronic noncommunicable diseases.

The High-Level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases will discuss the growing incidence and socioeconomic impact of chronic diseases in developing countries. The meeting of ministers of the Americas in Mexico was the third meeting held to prepare common regional positions for the U.N. summit. Earlier meetings were held in Tehran and Oslo, and a fourth is planned for Brazzaville, Congo.

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