A new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) Independent High-level Commission on Non-communicable Diseases has made a call for urgent action to address chronic diseases and mental health disorders. The commission stresses high-level commitment and the urgent speeding up of actions to address the epidemic of NCDs, the world’s leading causes of death and ill health.
A non-communicable disease (NCD) is a medical condition or disease that is not caused by infectious agents (non-infectious or non-transmissible). NCDs can refer to chronic diseases which last for long periods of time and progress slowly.
Collectively, cancer, diabetes, lung and heart diseases kill 41 million people annually, accounting for 71% of all deaths globally, 15 million of which occur between the ages of 30 and 70 years. The report spotlights attention on growing, but often neglected, challenges like mental disorders and obesity.
NCDs on the Rise in Africa
WHO estimates that, by 2030, deaths from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are likely to increase globally by 17% over the next 10 years, and Africa will experience a 27% increase, that is 28 million additional deaths from these conditions.
The Commission’s Co-chairs include the presidents of Finland, Sri Lanka and Uruguay, the Minister of Healthcare of the Russian Federation and Dr Sania Nishtar, a leading NCDs expert and advocate and a former federal minister of health from Pakistan. The Commission comprises health and development leaders from governments, civil society and business.
The Commission makes six recommendations in its report:
- Heads of State and Government should take responsibility for the NCD agenda, rather than delegating it to ministers of health alone, as it requires collaboration and cooperation across many sectors.
- Governments should identify and implement a specific set of priorities within the overall NCD and mental health agenda, based on public health needs.
- Governments should reorient health systems to include NCDs prevention and control and mental health services in their universal health coverage policies and plans.
- Governments should increase effective regulation, appropriate engagement with the private sector, academia, civil society, and communities.
- Governments and the international community should develop a new economic paradigm for funding actions on NCDs and mental health.
- Governments need to strengthen accountability to their citizens for action on NCDs and simplify existing international accountability mechanisms.
Commission Co-chair Dr Sania Nishtar said, “We know the problem and we have the solutions, but unless we increase financing for NCDs, and demand all stakeholders be held responsible for delivering on their promises, we won’t be able to accelerate progress.” The NCDs epidemic has exploded in low and middle income countries over the last two decades. The report emphasizes the need to move quickly to save lives, prevent needless suffering, and keep fragile health systems from collapsing.
WHO’s Top Priority
Fulfilling the promise of universal health coverage, to ensure all people everywhere can access quality health services without suffering financial hardship, is one of WHO’s top priorities. The Commission’s report will help guide countries as they make progress toward health for all and tackle both NCDs and infectious killers.
“WHO was founded 70 years ago on the conviction that health is a human right to be enjoyed by all people, and not a privilege for the few,” wrote WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The recommendations of this report are an important step towards realizing that right by preventing the suffering and death caused by noncommunicable diseases.”
Delivering the report to the WHO Director-General is the first activity of the Commission, which will continue to provide high-level support to the NCD community by catalyzing action and financing.
The United Nations General Assembly will host the Third High-level Meeting on NCDs in New York on September 27, 2018. The Commission’s report will guide the WHO as it prepares for this imperative next meeting.