19 September 2011

Non-communicable Diseases Pose Rapidly Growing Threat to Socio-economic Development in World’s Poorest Countries, Round Table Discussion Told

19 September 2011
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-sixth General Assembly

Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases

Round Table 1 (AM)

Non-communicable Diseases Pose Rapidly Growing Threat to Socio-economic


Development in World’s Poorest Countries, Round Table Discussion Told


Non-communicable diseases were quickly becoming a threat to socio-economic development in the world’s poorest countries, speakers participating in the first round table of the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on the subject said this morning.

The diseases were linked to 63 per cent of deaths around the world, a number expected to increase sharply in the coming years, and had devastating effects on productivity and income, Endang Rahayu Sedyaningsih, Minister for Health of Indonesia, said as she opened the discussion, under the theme “The rising incidence, developmental and other challenges and the social and economic impact of non-communicable diseases and their risk factors”.  It was the first of three round tables of the two-day High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases.

Participants in the discussion, co-chaired by Andrew Lansley, Secretary of State for Health of the United Kingdom, heard representatives of Member States and organizations confirm the severity of the problem and its effect on development.  Nauru’s representative, for example, said 43 per cent of his country’s population were afflicted with diabetes — the world’s highest incidence — 54 per cent suffered from hypertension and 35 per cent had high cholesterol.  He added that 48 per cent of adult Nauruans smoked while the majority indulged in unhealthy diets and high rates of physical inactivity.  Other speakers cited obesity and alcohol as rising risk factors, alongside increasing consumption of salt, sugar and fats.

Describing the devastation caused by non-communicable diseases to individuals and societies, the representative of the Commonwealth Secretariat said that one third of the deaths arising from the diseases in member countries occurred before the age of 60.  The representative of the World Medical Association said that despite advances in fighting communicable diseases, many people now faced reduced life expectancy.  Societies facing aging were also hard-hit due to the enormous prevalence of the diseases in elderly persons, Italy’s representative said.  In economic terms, a speaker representing the Harvard School of Public Health said while introducing a new study, non-communicable diseases would cost the world $47 trillion in lost income in the next two decades.  That was enough to pull the world’s poorest people out of that category within that time.

Many speakers also described a dearth of facilities for diagnosing non-communicable diseases in developing countries, with a World Health Organization (WHO) representative pointing out that in many of them, cancer treatment was simply not available or remained at the level of developed countries decades ago.  Even with such a limited response, the diseases were becoming a great burden on Governments, many speakers said, with the World Bank’s representative noting that treating obesity alone could cost Mexico more than its federal budget.  In all cases, non-communicable diseases were diverting funds that could be used to fight poverty.

Belgium’s representative added that many middle-income families fell into poverty under the impact of non-communicable diseases.  Poor families were even more affected economically, speakers said, estimating that large percentages of their income were either cancelled or diverted.  Many speakers called for a holistic approach to sustainable development that would provide lifestyle options, including healthy choices and tracking of risk factors for non-communicable diseases starting from infancy.  It was particularly important to shape economic activity to allow healthy lifestyles, Nauru’s representative said, pointing out that servings of fresh fruits and vegetables were often more expensive than a pack of cigarettes.  “Vice is simply more affordable than virtue,” he added.

Reinforcing that point, Guyana’s representative said Government awareness programmes were no match for the marketing campaigns launched by manufacturers of processed foods and other unhealthy choices.  However, a representative of the International Food and Beverage Association said members of that organization recognized that they had an important role to play in helping to prevent non-communicable diseases, in reformulating products, in ensuring responsible advertising and in other areas.

Speakers also acknowledged that individuals had a responsibility to change their behaviour so as to reduce the risk factors for non-communicable diseases.  They stressed, however, that such change required the raising of awareness in addition to healthy choices being made available and affordable.  A representative of the International Olympic Committee noted that the root causes of inactivity varied widely, but it was crucial to educate young people about sports and other activities that could avert that risk factor.  Chad’s representative pointed out that many developing countries lacked the infrastructure for widespread participation in sports.

Kuwait’s representative said that the problems of non-communicable diseases, as well as the solutions, were well known and no more discussion was necessary in that regard.  Instead, an immediate, global action plan covering mental health was needed, as well as technical and financial assistance to countries requiring it.

In concluding remarks, Mr. Lansley said that such a plan must go beyond addressing the diseases themselves to tackling inequalities between countries, which would lead to the multisectoral approach urged by many speakers during the discussion.

Also speaking this morning were representatives of the Russian Federation, Iraq, Israel, Thailand, Solomon Islands, Philippines, New Zealand, Suriname, India, Barbados, Zimbabwe, Yemen, Nigeria, Mexico, Gabon, United Republic of Tanzania, Comoros and Saint Lucia.

A representative of the European Union also spoke.

Representatives of the International Alliance of Patients Organizations and the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease delivered additional statements.

Round table 2, under the theme “Strengthening national capacities, as well as appropriate policies, to address prevention and control of non-communicable diseases”, will take place at 3 p.m. today.

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