28 January 2011

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Unhealthy Lifestyles Going Global, Secretary-General Warns at World Economic

Forum Session on Chronic Disease, Highlighting Rising Costs, Death Toll


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s opening remarks to the World Economic Forum plenary session on combating chronic disease, in Davos, Switzerland, on 27 January:

No one talks much about smallpox any more.  The last victim died three decades ago.  But I remember smallpox every time I face a major public health challenge.  Because smallpox showed that even the most fearsome killer can be defeated.

There are more recent examples.  The Millennium Development Goals ushered in unprecedented cooperation and progress on infectious diseases.  Our campaign against HIV/AIDS is saving lives by bringing together Governments, civil society and industry, including many of you in this room.

Non-communicable diseases deserve similar attention.  Six out of every ten people die from cancer, diabetes, chronic lung diseases or cardiovascular illness.  Thirty-five million people die every year.  The problem is grave and growing.  Already, heart disease, stroke and diabetes are estimated to cost low- and middle-income countries as much as 5 per cent of [gross domestic product].

By 2030, chronic disease-related deaths in Africa, the Middle East and South-East Asia will grow by more than 50 per cent.  Globally diabetes deaths will increase by two thirds.  Chronic diseases used to be seen as a “rich man’s problem”.  Not any more.  Unhealthy lifestyles are going global.  Eighty-five per cent of people who die from non-communicable diseases are in the developing world.

In developed countries, measures like early detection that prolong life are common.  Not so in developing countries, where health systems are generally weak and geared to infectious diseases.  We cannot allow chronic diseases to even further amplify the health challenges faced by developing countries, especially when we know the solutions.

This is why the United Nations General Assembly will hold a High-level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases in September in New York.  I commend the Caribbean States, which have seen this threat grow, for showing welcome leadership in pushing for this session.  The Meeting is for Heads of State and Government, officials from across their cabinets, educators and the media.

Success requires public-private partnerships; it requires political vision and resource mobilization across sectors, across ministries and across borders.  We also need businesses to be there in full force, and not just the health industry.

Certainly, we want to work more closely with pharmaceutical companies to make medicines more affordable and accessible.  But we will also look to food companies to cut back on the salt, transfats and sugar, and be more responsible in marketing products to children and providing accurate information on their products.

And virtually all industries can help reduce pollution and promote healthy lifestyles.  To the business executives here, let me say:  the well-being of your workforces, your very productivity and reputation, are all at stake in working for global public health.

The Summit in September in New York is our chance to broker an international commitment that puts non-communicable diseases high on the development agenda, where they belong.

Today’s session is just a start.  Let us lay the groundwork for success in the September Summit Meeting at the United Nations to address this very important and serious issue.

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For information media • not an official record