Fight against heart attacks, strokes and cancers gets boost with new UN initiative

Whole body scan of patient being reviewed to assess the spread of cancer

8 July 2009 – The United Nations health agency today launched a network of leading global experts and groups to help boost efforts to combat noncommunicable diseases, such as heart attacks, strokes and cancers, and to ensure these issues are given priority.

The new Global Noncommunicable Disease Network (NCDnet) will unite currently fragmented efforts by bringing the cancer, cardiovascular, diabetes and respiratory communities together with tobacco control, healthy diets, and physical activity advocates, according to a news release issued by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Integrating the prevention of noncommunicable diseases and injuries into the national and global development agendas is not only achievable but also a priority for developing countries,” said Dr. Ala Alwan, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health.

“The goals of the new network are to increase focus on the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases, to increase resource availability and to catalyse effective multi-stakeholder action at global and country levels,” he noted.

Noncommunicable diseases cause 38 million deaths annually and together with injuries are responsible for 70 per cent of all global deaths, WHO noted, adding that 80 per cent of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

Deaths from noncommunicable diseases worldwide are estimated to increase by 17 per cent over the next 10 years, with the greatest increase projected in Africa (27 per cent).

Supported by the World Bank, the World Economic Forum and leading non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the network will advocate for raising the priority given to noncommunicable diseases in development work at the national and international levels.

“The challenges policymakers face include how to address the links between noncommunicable diseases and poverty, how to minimize the health and economic losses among the economically active population, and how to prepare for the pressures on health systems resulting from the growing numbers of people with noncommunicable diseases,” said Joy Phumaphi, Vice-President of the Human Development Network of the World Bank.

This year’s annual session of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), currently meeting in Geneva, is focusing on global public health. WHO said it expects that many delegates will call for setting goals in the fight against noncommunicable diseases, as has been done for other health challenges in the context of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015.


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