Non-Communicable Diseases – An Emerging Priority Worldwide

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Preventing non-communicable diseases

NCDs are the world's number one killer, causing 60% of all deaths globally

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), namely cancers, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, are chronic, costly but largely preventable diseases. These four diseases share common modifiable risks factors and are a major cause of poverty, a barrier to economic growth development and a serious threat to the achievement of the Sustainable development goals. 

NCDs are the world’s number one killer causing 60% of all deaths globally. A staggering 35 million people die every year from these silent killers, of which 18 million are women. NDCs represent the biggest threat to women’s health worldwide, increasingly impacting on women in developing countries in their most productive years.  Already in 2009 the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the global NCD epidemic as a “public health emergency in slow motion”.

The international community, the United Nations and the Organization of the American states have been analyzing the health and social impact of the Non Communicable Diseases in order to provide some concrete suggestions and intervention to reduce the burden to society, especially in low and medium income countries.

Tree of non communicable diseases

On the UN side, the debate around the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals has raised interest in finding affordable solutions and policies. A few key points have been promoted as "best buy" interventions to be easily implemented in low and middle income countries, along with the recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Five main risk factors have been identified and some interventions are suggested for each one of them as shown below:

RISK FACTOR INTERVENTION EXAMPLES
Tobacco use Tax increases, smoke free indoor workplaces and public places, health information and warnings, bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship
Alcohol abuse Tax increases, restricted access to retailed alcohol, bans on alcohol advertising
Unhealthy diet and physical inactivity Reduced salt intake in food, replacement of trans fat with polyunsaturated fat, public awareness through mass media on diet and physical activity
Cardiovascular diseases (CVS) and Diabetes Counseling and multi-drug therapy for people with high risk of developing heart attacks and strokes (including those with establised CVD), treatment of heart attacks with aspirin
Cancer Hepatitis B immunization to prevent liver cancer, screening and treatment of pre-cancerous lesions to prevent cervical cancer

Moreover the Organization of American States (OAS) became interested in the NCDs, since they are responsible 80 percent of deaths in the Americas – 36 percent of them premature – and particularly affect those most disadvantaged. For this reason the OAS and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) joined forces to create the Inter American Task Force on NCDs launched in Washington in June 2015,

The Task force includes also the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) of the United Nations and the World Bank. The Task Force was presented recently at the OAS headquarters in Washington DC, as a response to concerns about the impact of these diseases on the human and economic development agenda in the Americas.

As stated by OAS Secretary General, Luis Almagro, "the health and welfare of our citizens is at the heart of the agenda of rights and equality of the OAS." "Non-communicable diseases must be addressed comprehensively, hence, inter-governmental, inter-institutional and inter-sectorial collaboration is key to reducing their incidence."

Download Declaration of Commitment: Strengthening prevention and control of Noncommunicable diseases through cooperative action of the inter-american system.