Deputy Secretary-General, at Informal Civil Society Hearing, Stresses Importance of Ending Myth That Non-communicable Diseases Target Affluent People

16 June 2011

Deputy Secretary-General, at Informal Civil Society Hearing, Stresses Importance of Ending Myth That Non-communicable Diseases Target Affluent People

16 June 2011
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Deputy Secretary-General, at Informal Civil Society Hearing, Stresses Importance

of Ending Myth That Non-communicable Diseases Target Affluent People


Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks to the General Assembly informal civil society interactive hearing on non-communicable diseases, in New York today, 16 June:

They say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  We have lots of walking to do, especially since we are going to be promoting exercise as part of our campaign.

The journey that has brought us together today — the critical goal of increasing global attention to non-communicable diseases — is just starting.  This is a very exciting campaign, and with it, we are making history.

Together, you make up a remarkably dynamic group — academics, medical and public health experts, community leaders, health activists, philanthropists, business executives and others, all committed to addressing this public health threat.

We all have a professional connection to the issue of non-communicable diseases, but I would guess that most of us also have personal experiences.  We may have been fortunate to receive screening for cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes or respiratory illness.  We may have survived them ourselves.  Or we may have mourned friends and relatives lost to these diseases.

When a person has one of these diseases, they must cope with much more than the immediate and most visible symptoms.  They struggle with the financial burden of paying for health care and losing work.  They battle the fear of deterioration and death.  They worry for their loved ones, who are also deeply affected, financially and emotionally.

We know how non-communicable diseases harm an individual’s health, financial security and family members.  The world is only now coming to grips with the broader implications.  Non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death globally, taking their heaviest toll in developing countries.  They are a fundamental threat to the well-being of whole societies.  That is why it is so important to put to rest the myth that non-communicable diseases are diseases of affluence.  Four out of five people who suffer cancer, diabetes or respiratory illness live in poor countries.

You understand this.  You are on the frontlines of the fight against these diseases.  We in the international community are finally catching up with you.  Now that this issue is at the top of the United Nations agenda, you have a rare and real opportunity to take this campaign and go global.

You helped us make the upcoming September high-level meeting possible.  We now need you even more going forward.  These hearings are your chance to provide input, ideas and energy for our international campaign to prevent and treat non-communicable diseases.  I hope you will make the most of this chance so that we can make the most of the September meeting.

Even more than that, I hope you stay engaged after the speeches are over and the leaders depart from New York.  Because we need you to carry out any plans we adopt.  After all, non-communicable diseases are played out not in intergovernmental conference rooms, but in homes and communities.  That is where you come in.  People naturally turn to their civic leaders in times of crisis.  They reach out to religious figures, local businesses, community health clinics and other civic institutions.

You have opportunities to help individuals prevent and treat non-communicable diseases.  You can instil trust, promote better habits and encourage change.  And through these measures, you can save many lives.  The United Nations is bringing all of our experts together.  We are looking at this issue from every angle — health, the environment, economics and development.  And we are poised to expand our engagement on this issue.

It is a monumental task, but other global health campaigns have shown what is possible.  We saw this most recently with the campaign against AIDS.  Just last week, as the President of the General Assembly said, the United Nations finished an enormously successful High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS.  We set bold targets that would have been unimaginable decades or even years ago.

But progress in recent years has now enabled us to commit to the very achievable goal of stopping the transmission of HIV to children by the year 2015.  Let us all learn from the AIDS community and build bridges to them.  Many people living with AIDS are also dealing with non-communicable diseases.  They are your natural allies.

We can also link this work to the Secretary-General’s broader campaign for women’s health.  Women are vulnerable to a range of non-communicable diseases.  Even if they stay healthy, they are disproportionately affected as caregivers.  Supporting women leads to healthier families and stronger societies.  Women’s health organizations are also your natural partners.

A journey of a thousand miles may begin with a single step, but we can take thousands and thousands of steps forward at once if we walk together.  This is a great march toward progress, and you can all help lead the way.

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