|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on General Assembly Decision to Convene Summit
in September 2011 on Non-Communicable Diseases
The adoption of a resolution this morning by the General Assembly to convene a high-level summit in September 2011 on the issue of prevention and control of non-communicable diseases was a “momentous and historical” occasion, not only for the world, but also for the Caribbean community which had taken the lead on the issue, Marina Annette Valère, Permanent Representative of Trinidad and Tobago said today during a press conference at Headquarters.
Joining her this afternoon were Donatus Keith St. Aimee, Permanent Representative of Saint Lucia, and George Alleyne, Director Emeritus of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Chancellor of the University of the West Indies. The press conference was moderated by Noel G. Sinclair, Permanent Observer for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to the United Nations.
Ms. Valère said that, traditionally, the West Indies had played a leadership role in health issues on the national level and as a group. CARICOM member countries had been the first in the world to eliminate such diseases as polio and measles through regional cooperation. The group had identified some priority areas for common solutions to non-communicable diseases, including addressing HIV/AIDS and injuries caused by violence. As non-communicable diseases had taken on tremendous proportions, the Community had developed prevention policies. At a 2007 CARICOM summit, Heads of Government had decided to call for the 2011 high-level Assembly meeting.
She said that the group had recognized the limitations of the original national and regional approach to such critical issues as access to drugs and healthy foods, realizing that the issues required global solidarity and commitment. The 2008 Port-of-Spain Declaration on the issue had reiterated member States’ commitment to combat non-communicable diseases and had recognized the special needs to implement measures to control them. CARICOM acknowledged the role played by the World Health Organization and the Framework Convention Alliance of non-governmental organizations.
Mr. Alleyne said that today’s occasion was truly historic as, for the first time, the issue of non-communicable diseases had been brought to the highest political level, which now made government involvement possible. It had taken a long time, he said, because the “epidemic” had been a silent one that affected a large number of people. It had become clear, however, that current epidemics were not restricted to infectious diseases; chronic diseases had a major impact on the world population and put a special burden on women, as they usually were the primary caregivers.
He said there was a need to produce data and to map the costs of the non-communicable diseases epidemic. There were also many myths about chronic disease, such as that they affected only older people, which should be dispelled. A global movement should be created to combat those diseases, and WHO was seriously committed to do just that.
Mr. St. Aimee added that there was a certain irony to the issue, as non-communicable diseases not only affected development, but development also affected them. The more development, the more people were inclined to consume more food and lead a more sedentary life. One area of development policy — agricultural policies — could have an impact on non-communicable diseases by gearing production towards more nutritious crops. Another area was education, in order to impress on children, but also adults, the need to consume better food that contained the required nutrients. Schools should be built with playing fields to provide students with sound physical education.
He said health policies should be developed via a holistic approach within the development framework and must encompass all age groups. That would require research and redirecting policies. The cost of addressing non-communicable diseases would be prohibitive if no preventive actions were taken.
On behalf of the Framework Convention Alliance, specifically on behalf of such organizations as the International Diabetes Federation, the International Union against Cancer and the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, Lauren Huber thanked the CARICOM for its efforts, noting that non-communicable diseases were the cause of some 35 million deaths each year. The magnitude of the problem required all, including civil society, to find cost-effective solutions, which, in turn, could save billions of dollars.
Answering a correspondent’s question about what the CARICOM countries had done, apart from spearheading today’s resolution, Mr. Alleyne said that the group had dedicated the second Saturday of every September as the CARICOM wellness day, which had generated tremendous support. It had also stimulated the establishment of national commissions to deal with the issue. Taxes on tobacco were being raised and issues of monitoring and labelling were being addressed.
Mr. St. Aimee added that CARICOM had established the Food and Nutrition Institute to determine the nutritious values of foods and to properly label all food products, including imported foods, according to their nutritious values. He stressed that it was not just a matter of health, but a matter of “wellness”, of proper living. His country, therefore, was replacing health centres with wellness centres.
Asked about the expectations for the 2011 summit, Mr. Alleyne said he hoped the world would recognized the importance of the issue, develop the capacity to do something about it and then “do something about it”, through, among other things, monitoring, taking preventive actions and making affordable drugs available in the places where they were most needed. That was not a “utopia”, he stressed, it was a very realistic goal. Ms. Valère and Mr. Sinclair stressed the importance of awareness-raising and action by Governments as a group.
Addressing a question about costs, the participants stressed that the cost of treating non-communicable diseases if nothing was done now would far outweigh the cost of preventive action. The costs would vary from country to country and a global figure was not yet available, but not doing anything now would end up costing billions of dollars and would especially impact developing countries.
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