Commission on Population and Development to Discuss Growing Burden of Non-Communicable Diseases

9 April 2010

Commission on Population and Development to Discuss Growing Burden of Non-Communicable Diseases

9 April 2010
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Background Release

Commission on Population and Development to Discuss Growing Burden

of Non-Communicable Diseases


NEW YORK, 9 April (United Nations Population Division) -- As mortality declined in most countries during the twentieth century, life expectancy has risen in all world regions, the United Nations reports, ahead of an intergovernmental meeting on population and development next week in New York.  From 47 years in 1950-1955, global life expectancy increased sharply to 68 years in 2005-2010.

Underpinning this trend is the shift of the burden of disease from communicable to non-communicable diseases.  With the decline in mortality more pronounced at younger ages, deaths have become increasingly concentrated at older ages.  Globally, the proportion of deaths at age 60 or over has risen from 26 per cent in 1950-1955 to 54 per cent in 2005-2010, according to the Report of the Secretary-General on health, morbidity, mortality and development (document E/CN.9/2010/3).

The Report, which will be discussed when the Commission on Population and Development meets for its 43rd session at the United Nations Headquarters from 12 to 16 April 2010, documents the major reductions in mortality achieved since 1950 and the increasing share of the burden of disease accounted for by non-communicable diseases.

The shift from communicable to non-communicable diseases has occurred in all regions of the world with the exception of sub-Saharan Africa, where the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the continued toll taken by other infectious and parasitic diseases has delayed reductions in the prevalence of communicable diseases.

Improvements in nutrition, hygiene and infrastructure essential for public health together with advances in vaccines and medical treatments against infections have all contributed to reduce mortality by reducing the incidence of infectious and parasitic diseases.

As people live longer, they are more likely to develop the chronic, degenerative diseases that are associated with the ageing process.  These diseases, also described as non-communicable, include all types of cancer; cardiovascular, respiratory and digestive diseases; diseases of the genitourinary system; musculoskeletal, skin and oral diseases; diabetes, nutritional and endocrine disorders; neuropsychiatric and sense organ disorders; and congenital abnormalities.

According to the Report of the Secretary-General, non-communicable diseases accounted for 48 per cent of the Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) globally in 2004, whereas communicable diseases accounted for a further 40 per cent and injuries for 12 per cent.

DALYs -- an indicator of the overall burden of disease and injuries in a population used by the World Health Organization (WHO) -- are the sum of the estimated years of life lost because of premature death and the years of life lost to disability in the population.

If mortality is to continue declining worldwide, the burden from non-communicable diseases will become even greater.  And because most of the non-communicable diseases are chronic and require long-term treatment and management, the Report suggests that efforts be concentrated in delaying the onset of illness.

Governments can achieve those objectives, the Report argues, by taking measures to reduce the prevalence of risk factors that are associated with chronic diseases, such as overweight, physical inactivity, tobacco use and alcohol abuse.  To do so, public health systems need to focus not only on treatment but also on prevention, and policy strategies to improve health must adopt a whole-of-government approach because sectors other than health need to be involved, including education, agriculture, employment and trade.

The Report notes that the global shortage of health workers needs to be addressed.  Shortages are most severe in developing countries, but they also exist in some developed countries because of the increasing burden of chronic disease.  Therefore, training more health workers with the necessary skills is imperative.  It is also important to develop incentives to ensure that health workers provide services in underserved areas, including the rural areas of developing countries. 

Three keynote speakers will address the forty-third session of the Commission.  Eduard Bos, Lead Population Expert at the World Bank, will discuss the issue of population trends, health outcomes and development on 12 April; Carissa Etienne, Assistant Director-General at the World Health Organization, will talk about strengthening health systems to address current and future challenges in public health on 13 April; and Barry Popkin, Carla Smith Chamblee Distinguished Professor of Global Nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will speak on the problems and solutions of the global economic and health challenge on 14 April.

A press conference on the issues considered by the Commission will be held on 13 April at 1:15 p.m. featuring experts from the World Bank and WHO, as well as Hania Zlotnik, Director of the Population Division, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).

The Commission will also discuss two other important reports, whose overviews are presented below.

Population Programmes

Reproductive ill health leads to death and accounts for a significant share of the global burden of disease, especially in low-income countries and among women and children, notes the report of the Secretary-General on monitoring of population programmes, focusing on health, morbidity, mortality and development (document E/CN.9/2010/4).

Prepared by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Report emphasizes that the most cost effective interventions to reduce maternal mortality are family planning, skilled birth attendants during delivery and emergency obstetric care.

The Report provides an overview of the programmatic work of the United Nations Population Fund to improve maternal health and reduce maternal morbidity and mortality.  It focuses on activities related to maternal and newborn care, including investments in family planning and midwifery.  The report also presents a summary of the Fund’s activities in enhancing commodity security in relation to reproductive health, preventing and treating obstetric fistula, abandoning the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting, eliminating gender-based violence, and addressing adolescent pregnancy and child marriage.  Other issues addressed in the report include preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, improving access to condoms to prevent unintended pregnancy and HIV infection, and providing reproductive health services in emergency situations.

Financial Flows

The Report of the Secretary-General on the flow of financial resources for assisting in the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (document E/CN.9/2010/5) notes that donor assistance for the implementation of the Programme of Action has been increasing gradually over the past few years.

From $8.7 billion in 2007, funding is likely to have reached $10 billion in 2008, and increases in funding are expected to have continued even in 2009 and 2010, although they would have been moderated by the effects of the international financial crisis, to reach $10.2 billion in 2009 and $10.6 billion in 2010.

Yet, even as the funding levels required are greater that ever before, the Report notes that the financial resources actually mobilized are still not sufficient to realize the objectives of the Programme of Action and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  Of particular concern has been a decrease in the funds made available for family planning services. 

The Report examines in detail the levels of donor and domestic expenditures; it reviews the major challenges in mobilizing financial resources and suggests a way forward.

In light of the global financial crisis, the Report is particularly concerned about countries whose gross domestic product has declined and about the effects of such a decline on the funding of population programmes.

Other Documents

A report of the Secretary-General on programme implementation and progress of work in the field of population, 2009 (document E/CN.9/2010/6), reviews the analytical work of the Population Division on fertility, mortality and international migration; the preparation of world population estimates and projections; the monitoring of population policies; the analysis of the interrelations between population and development; and the monitoring and dissemination of population information.  The report also covers other major activities carried out by the Division, including the substantive servicing of intergovernmental bodies, the preparation of parliamentary documentation and technical publications, the organization of expert meetings and the dissemination of results, including through the Internet.

Background of the Commission

The Population Commission was established by the Economic and Social Council in 1946 and renamed the Commission on Population and Development by the General Assembly in 1994.  The Commission, as a functional commission assisting the Council, has the task of monitoring, reviewing and assessing the implementation at the national, regional and international levels of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994 and of advising the Council thereon.

The Commission is composed of 47 members, who are elected on the basis of equitable geographic distribution and serve a term of four years.  The members for 43rd session of the Commission are:  Bangladesh, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Belarus, Côte d’Ivoire, China, Colombia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Croatia, Equatorial Guinea, Finland, Gambia, Germany, Grenada, Haiti, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Lebanon,  Mexico, Netherlands, Oman, Pakistan, Poland, Russian Federation, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay and Zambia.

For further information, please visit or contact the office of Hania Zlotnik, Director, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, tel.: +1 212 963 3179, fax: +1 212 963 2147.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.