Members of the World Health Organisation (WHO) have called for concrete action to reduce premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, cancers, and heart and lung disease, calling their prevalence a “pandemic”.
In the first international strategic dialogue, hosted by Ghana and Norway, WHO members agreed on a new Global Compact to fight NCDs worldwide. They also agreed to form a working group to more efficiently meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target, which aims to reduce premature mortality from NCDs by one third by 2030.
“Apart from the lives they take, NCDs take a heavy toll on economies, cutting down people in their most productive years. Overcoming this challenge requires technical, financial, and above all, political commitment. said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO.
NCDs, also known as chronic diseases, are usually long-term and the result of genetic, physiological and environmental factors.
The most common NCDs are cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, killing seven out of 10 people and arising from risk factors like tobacco, alcohol, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and air pollution.
Jonas Gahr Støre, the prime minister of Norway, said: “Investing in stronger health systems, service delivery, and the prevention of NCDs will make vulnerable populations more resilient to COVID-19 and future pandemics. This is also vital for promoting universal health coverage.”
Economic aspects were at the core of the talks, and WHO members highlighted the benefits of investing in NCDs. Norway, for instance, has become the first donor country to include NCD prevention in its international development strategy.
NCDs are largely preventable and treatable, according to the global compact, which reports that an investment of US$ 0.84 per person per year until 2030 could save nearly seven million lives.
“This investment would realise more than US$ 230 billion in economic and societal benefits and avert nearly 10 million heart attacks and strokes globally by 2030”, the WHO press release stated.
The first meeting of the NCDs working group is expected to take place in September 2022.
The five commitments
The new NCDs group has set up a list of five commitments, starting by preventing 50 million NCD-related premature deaths by 2030 by implementing the most cost-effective measures to prevent and manage diseases.
They also aim to protect the 1.7 billion people suffering from NCDs by guaranteeing them equal access to medicines and care, especially during a humanitarian disaster situation.
While discussions did not explicitly mention it, this commitment appears to reference the situation in Ukraine, where 4.6 million people have fled since the Russian invasion in February.
On the road to exile, refugees with NCDs may not have access to their treatments for several days in a row. “We may see diseases that we did not see before just due to the fact that you are stopping a treatment,” professor Maurizio Cecconi, president of the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine (ESICM), warned in an interview with EURACTIV.
The three other points of the Global Compact focus on integrating NCDs within primary health care, monitoring NCDs across the world, and integrating people living with NCDs and mental health problems in policy-making.
NCDs responsible for 80% of the diseases in the EU
In Europe, NCDs are responsible for 80% of diseases and are the leading causes of avoidable premature deaths, according to the Commission, which aims to support EU countries to reach the nine voluntary targets of the WHO by 2025, as well as the SDG.
As the human and financial costs of NCDs will probably increase in the coming years, the Commission is also now working on an initiative called Healthier Together to help EU countries fight NCDs.
The plan focuses on five key points: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, mental health and neurological disorders and health determinants. The EU’s strategy is to combine prevention and reinforcement of healthcare systems.
The Healthier Together initiative has been created in addition to Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, as cancer represents the second cause of mortality in Europe, after cardiovascular diseases. Each year 2.6 million people are diagnosed with cancer, and 1.2 million die, but 40% of cancers are preventable, according to the Commission.
[Edited by Alice Taylor/Zoran Radosavljevic]