More action needed to combat non-communicable diseases in Europe – UN meeting

26 November 2010

Governments need to pay more attention to the worsening problem of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Europe, representatives attending a United Nations-convened conference said today, calling for measures that reduce risk factors that expose people to these illnesses.

“The challenge posed by NCDs is not one just for the health sector alone to tackle, but for all sectors to fight together, including foreign affairs, development cooperation, urban planning, finance, education and transport,” said Ala Alwan, the UN World Health Organization’s (WHO) Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable diseases and mental health.

“More and more people are dying and suffering from these diseases, which are causing both enormous health and economic impacts globally. In particular, the poor and vulnerable people are affected in the world's poorest countries,” Mr. Alwan said at the end of the two-day meeting of the WHO European Region in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, to discuss the response to the crisis.

The four most common NCDs – cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung diseases – have been recognized as the key health priority in the WHO European Region this decade. These illnesses account for 77 per cent of the disease burden and 86 per cent of all deaths in the 53 countries in the region.

The two-day consultation came ahead of the UN high-level meeting on non-communicable diseases to be held in September next year.

At the Oslo meeting delegates also recommended the inclusion of NCDs into global development initiatives and related investment decisions, saying the diseases posed a threat to development in all countries. Additional research is needed to halt and reduce premature death from NCDs, they said.

“NCDs are becoming a major health challenge all over the world and the cost of not taking action is unacceptable,” said Norway’s Health Minister, Anne Grete Strom Erichsen. “Countries in the European region need to share our own domestic experience with other nations on what does and does not work in the fight against NCDs,” she said.

Next year’s UN summit will focus on the four most common NCDs, which are responsible for more than 60 per cent of global deaths, or 35 million people.

Nine million of the deaths are premature and could be prevented by low-cost measures targeting four key risk factors – tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, poor diet and physical inactivity.

Globally, NCDs are affecting an increasing number of people in developing countries, particularly the poorest, who live in regions with weaker health systems.

In Africa, deaths from NCDs are expected to increase by around 25 per cent by 2020, according to WHO.

In Europe, NCDs annually account for more than 8 million deaths – over 80 per cent of all deaths in the region – including 1.5 million people who die under the age of 60. Three out of four premature deaths from NCDs in the European region occur in low- and middle-income countries.


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