General Assembly

19 September 2011

Remarks to General Assembly meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases

Ban Ki-moon

This is a landmark meeting. Three out of every five people on earth die from the diseases that we gather here to address.

I am guessing that each one of us has been close to someone whose life has been changed or ended too early by a non-communicable disease.

This is the second health issue ever to be addressed at a special meeting of the General Assembly.

Our collaboration is more than a public health necessity. Non-communicable diseases are a threat to development. NCDs hit the poor and vulnerable particularly hard, and drive them deeper into poverty.

More than a quarter of all people who die from NCDs succumb in the prime of their lives. The vast majority live in developing countries. Millions of families are pushed into poverty each year when one of their members have become too weak to work. Or when the costs of medicines and treatments overwhelm the family budget. Or when the main breadwinner has to stay home to care for someone else who is sick.

Women and children are affected differently but significantly by NCDs and their impact on families.

The prognosis is grim. According to the World Health Organization, deaths from NCDs will increase by 17 per cent in the next decade. In Africa, that number will jump by 24 per cent.

These statistics are alarming – but we know how to drive them down.

Treating NCDs can be affordable. But preventing them can cost next to nothing, and even save money.

When people cycle to work instead of driving, they get exercise and the planet is spared more greenhouse gas emissions.

When children are fed a nutritious diet at school, their attendance goes up and these eating habits can last a lifetime.

When a woman has the access to quality screening and vaccines to prevent cervical cancer, her life can be saved.

That is just one example of the simple solutions at the ready.

This is not a problem that health ministers can solve on their own. We need all partners:

Governments ... to provide the right incentives.

Individuals ... to protect their own health.

Civic groups ... to maintain the pressure for responsible marketing.

Businesses ... to produce healthier, more sustainable goods.

We should encourage individuals to make the smart choices that will protect their health. Exercise, eat well, limit alcohol consumption and stop smoking. But even the healthiest individual cannot escape toxic substances in the environment. So we need to keep our air, water and land clean.

States crippled by these diseases cannot progress.

Early detection is in everyone's interest. And early treatment reduces pain, cuts costs and lowers the risk of disability or death.

We have to get medicine to all who need them. And those treatments need to be more affordable and accessible.

I count on governments to lead this campaign.

I depend on our friends in industry to do what is right.

I am a strong believer in the power of businesses to improve our world. Time and again, I have seen the private sector do extraordinary things for human well-being with its ingenuity and foresight that economic productivity depends on good health.

Precisely because I am a champion of the private sector, I must acknowledge some hard truths.

There is a well-documented and shameful history of certain players in industry who ignored the science – sometimes even their own research – and put public health at risk to protect their own profits.

There are many, many more industry giants which acted responsibly. That is all the more reason we must hold everyone accountable – so that the disgraceful actions of a few do not sully the reputation of the many which are doing such important work to foster our progress.

I especially call on corporations that profit from selling processed foods to children to act with the utmost integrity. I refer not only to food manufacturers, but also the media, marketing and advertising companies that play central roles in these enterprises.

Those who profit from alcohol sales have to do their part to promote moderation in alcohol consumption. And we can all work to end tobacco use.

Individuals can have a say through the choices they make each day.

Governments should educate people and encourage healthier options.

This will be a massive effort. But I am convinced we can succeed.

Success requires public-private partnerships. It requires political vision and resource mobilization.

I have seen similar success happen before.

Ten years ago, the General Assembly held its first-ever meeting on a health issue. That was AIDS. Since then, we have made enormous progress.

We have a long way to go, but no one can deny that political commitment from government officials saved lives. No one can minimize the contributions of industry leaders who made medicines affordable and available. No one can doubt the value of the United Nations in driving the global campaign to stop AIDS.

NCDs are different from AIDS, but many of the same tools work in response.

From visiting clinics and hospitals around the world, I know that holistic action on health works.

Improving health systems improves health services. Involving all parts of government attacks all sides of a problem. And taking comprehensive action is the best way to protect against all diseases.

Addressing NCDs is critical for global public health, but it will also be good for the economy; for the environment; for the global public good in the broadest sense. If we come together to tackle NCDs, we can do more than heal individuals – we can safeguard our very future.

The Political Declaration that so many of you worked hard to draft and build consensus on is an excellent foundation. We must act together to carry out its provisions and bring NCDs into our broader global health and development agenda.

We should all work to meet targets to reduce the risks. WHO's “best buys” serve as excellent guidance.

I especially challenge Member States to step up accountability for carrying out the Political Declaration.

If this document remains just a set of words, we will have failed in our obligations towards future generations.

But if we can give this Political Declaration meaning through multiple, concerted and tough actions, we will honour our responsibility to safeguard our shared future.

Ladies and gentlemen, Excellencies, I count on your leadership and commitment and I thank you very much.