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UN General Assembly holds High-level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs)

arton3574On 19-20 September, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly held a High-level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs), adopting a Political Declaration of the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases. The meeting addressed the four main NCDs that jointly kill three out of five people across the globe: cardiovascular disease; cancer; chronic lung diseases; and diabetes. During his opening speech, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon identified the event as a “landmark meeting” and expressed his hope that it will place NCDs high on the development agenda.

The meeting was an outcome of a five month preparatory process, which followed after the General Assembly’s decision in April (resolution A/RES/65/238) to convene this meeting. During this preparatory processes, views from civil society were collected through online consultations and an informal interactive hearing with representatives of non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, academia, and the private sector, which was held on 16 June 2011 in New York. More than 250 civil society representatives took part in the hearing, advocating for NCDs to be recognized as a threat for development, and for more effective international cooperation to tackle these diseases, including the active engagement of civil society in the monitoring process.

(To access the summary document of the civil society hearing, click here.)

The High-level event featured both plenary sessions as well as thematic round table discussions, with the latter focusing on: the rising incidence, developmental and other challenges and the social and economic impact of non-communicable diseases and their risk factors (Round table 1); strengthening national capacities, as well as appropriate policies, to address prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (Round table 2); and fostering international cooperation, as well as coordination, to address non-communicable diseases (Round table 3).

During the first round table, participants raised concern about NCDs as they negatively impact global socio-economic development, and especially the development of the world’s poorest countries. Many addressed the limited facilities in developing countries for diagnosing NCDs, as well as the economic vulnerability of low- and middle-income families resulting from high treatment costs. Changing towards a healthier lifestyle was advocated as a potential solution. Speakers underlined that such change necessitates awareness raising campaigns and improving the availability and affordability of various health choices and life options. Kuwait’s representative called for further financial and technical assistance for the countries in need. Along this line, Andrew Lansley, Secretary of State for Health of the United Kingdom, concluded the discussion by highlighting the need to tackle inequalities among countries, which would demand a multisectoral approach.

In the second round table, participants agreed upon the urgency of international cooperation to foster national capacities in policy formulation for tackling NCDs and in building effective health care systems. Vanuatu’s representative, for example, appealed that greater international assistance is imperative for countries at isolated locations in order to ensure human resource capacities for developing an effective health system. Many speakers introduced actions taken in their own countries or regions, offering to share ideas for effective policy formation and implementation. Norway’s representative, for example, alluded to the standardized system for labeling food ingredients in the Nordic countries, and Iran’s representative cited their regulations on advertising food products containing unhealthy ingredients. Nevertheless, only a small fraction of intervention policies have led to palpable results in lowering the incidence and the impact of NCDs in particular, suggested a representative of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). As a response to such reality, a representative of the International Diabetes Association urged the governments to take more prompt and effectual initiatives, learning from successful cases for tackling HIV/AIDS and other diseases. She also ensured the full support of her Association by stating that: “You must lead and NGOs will be with you.”

In the third round table, speakers agreed on the necessity for a comprehensive international framework involving actors at all levels, to effectively fight the NCDs. The representative of Poland in this vein proposed an idea of an international network of organizations specializing in NCDs. The representative of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the representative of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) respectively stressed that agriculture and human rights hold a strong association with global health issues. Japan’s representative argued that the development of a primary health care system is the key, which has led Japan to record the highest life expectancy in the world, and expressed the willingness to share their experiences. Others suggested that access to low-cost drugs is imperative. The representative of the African Heart Network called for transnational cooperation to allow for the local manufacturing of low-cost drugs.

In the closing plenary, General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser solicited support for the earlier adopted Political Declaration, which should guide international efforts to address NDCs. He further mentioned that the World Health Organization (WHO) will provide recommendations for voluntary global targets as well as indicators and a monitoring framework to assess the progress of global actions by the end of 2012. Representatives of each delegation also made statements, mainly reemphasizing the policies being undertaken in their countries or regions to address NCDs; the need for further international efforts in assisting developing countries, and the need for innovative and concrete policy suggestions.

A number of side events as well as parallel conferences took place before and during the meeting, such as the Global Diabetes Symposium) led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and the Global Diet and Physical Activity Communications Summit, organized by the International Food Information Council Foundation. WHO also co-sponsored some events that were held on 18-20 September, including the United Nations High-level meeting on nutrition and a series of panel discussions respectively on “Non-communicable diseases: what gets measured, gets done” and “Achieving health equity: uniting around a common agenda to address NCDs and HIV.”

Click here to access the statements of speakers.

Click here to view the programme of the meeting and press releases.

The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to develop constructive relations between the UN and civil society organizations.

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