Press Conference on Human, Economic Case to Urgently Address Non-Communicable Diseases

20 June 2011

Press Conference on Human, Economic Case to Urgently Address Non-Communicable Diseases

20 June 2011
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Human, Economic Case to Urgently


Address Non-Communicable Diseases


With an estimated 8 million premature deaths from non-communicable diseases occurring in developing countries each year, the upcoming high-level General Assembly meeting on the topic would bring an urgently needed focus to the problem, a panel of speakers participating in a preliminary media event on the issue said at Headquarters today.

“This meeting is a unique opportunity to take action against the epidemics of cancer, heart and lung diseases and diabetes,” Margaret Novicki, Chief of the Communications Campaigns Service in the Department of Public Information, said at a press conference this morning.  Scheduled for 19 and 20 September, the high-level meeting is the result of an initiative of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), with support from the American Cancer Society and other stakeholders.  (See also Press Release DSG/SM/563)

Joining Ms. Novicki at the press conference were Rodney Charles, Permanent Representative of Trinidad and Tobago to the United Nations; David Bloom, Clarence James Gamble Professor of Economics and Demography at the Harvard School of Public Health; John Seffrin, Chief Executive Officer of the American Cancer Society; and Cary Adams, Chief Executive Officer of the Union for International Cancer Control.

Mr. Charles, speaking for CARICOM, said it was alarming that 60 per cent of deaths around the world resulted from non-communicable diseases that could be controlled, and 80 per cent of those deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries and were increasing.  CARICOM was taking a regional approach to measures that could help, but major needs — including access to affordable, healthy food, medication, technology and treatment — would require a global commitment.

He said the diseases in question impacted development in many ways and required action from the highest levels in a range of areas, including planning, agriculture, trade, finance, sport and education, from a range of actors, the public, private and international sectors among them.  CARICOM expected an action-oriented outcome document from the September meeting, which would reflect awareness of the prevalence and development implications of the diseases, as well as a commitment to take the necessary action to control them.  There would be a need to integrate the diseases into the development agenda, provide technical assistance and ensure clear, time-bound targets, he added.

Mr. Seffrin said non-communicable diseases were a consequence of population ageing, urbanization, globalization, population growth, increased use of alcohol and tobacco, a high prevalence of calorie-rich but nutritionally poor diets and increasingly sedentary lives.  By 2030, the diseases were expected to cause about five times as many deaths as communicable ailments worldwide.  Noting that non-communicable diseases were not on the international agenda, and were assumed to hit wealthier nations disproportionately, he said that, in reality, they affected the poorest people, who lacked access to quality care and/or quality living environments, and perpetuated the poverty cycle.

“Surviving cancer and other [non-communicable diseases] should not be determined by a geographic lottery,” he stressed, adding that it was a moral issue.  Some 80 cancer survivors and advocates had been brought to New York this weekend to share their stories with their United Nations Missions and explain the urgent need to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the September high-level meeting.  International agreements on tobacco and other ills were an effective beginning, he added.

Mr. Bloom, introducing a World Bank-sponsored project that would be an input for the high-level meeting, said it showed growing concern over the economic impact of non-communicable diseases on the private-sector economy due to the loss of productivity, the costs of treatment and other factors.  Those concerns had not yet been integrated into economic policymaking, he said, noting that such economic consequences would most likely affect the poor.  In that light, a big portion of health spending should be seen as economic investment, which “yields a handsome rate of return”.

He said his study would be augmented by a soon-to-be-released study by the World Health Organization and sponsored by the American Cancer Society, which sought to identify the “best buys” in interventions addressing the burden of non-communicable disease.  The international community must pay heed because the economic load of non-communicable diseases would evolve into a staggering burden in the next two decades, with key diseases costing some $35 trillion from 2005 to 2030, he warned.

Mr. Adams said his organization was demanding a strong outcome document from the September meeting, emphasizing that a “whole-of-Government approach, a whole-of-society approach and a whole-of-life approach” was needed.  Many of the factors that exacerbated non-communicable diseases were a matter of personal choice, but Governments had a wide range of tools for controlling diseases, in terms of both prevention and treatment, he said, adding that the private sector was a critical partner in that effort.

Responding to questions, Mr. Charles said the September meeting was required by a General Assembly resolution and support for addressing the problem was building due to the new focus.  There was a consensus among leaders in the Caribbean to further address the issues involved, he added.

Mr. Bloom said it was true that money spent on non-communicable diseases amounted to economic activity, but it was fundamentally a cost because such money was diverted from activities that would better spur economic growth.  However, calculating the full economic cost of disease entailed many challenges, he admitted, going on to outline some of the analytical approaches that had been developed.

Asked how developing countries such as Bangladesh could counter the effects of cheaply priced tobacco products, the panel agreed that it was important that they not only sign up to the Convention on Tobacco Control, but also implement all its protocols.  Ministers at the September meeting must be impressed that not only would health improve, but the economy as well, resulting in a “win-win” situation, he emphasized.

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