[Dateline: New York | Author: DESA]
Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs Thomas Stelzer opened a high-level United Nations meeting on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and injuries in Doha as part of a global effort to accelerate progress towards health-related development goals.
Discussions at the two-day Doha meeting, which started on Sunday, focused on the increasing impact of NCDs and injuries in the Western Asia region and the urgency to tackle these issues. The more than 150 participants agreed that it will require a multi-sectoral approach, engaging various parts of governments, civil society, and the private sector to find solutions beyond the health sector.
Addressing these issues will also require raising awareness, comprehensive planning by developing national policies and programmes, engaging the population in prevention efforts, reinforcing partnerships, monitoring NCD trends and assessing progress at country level.
“Noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases account for 60 per cent of deaths globally,” Mr. Stelzer stated, adding that when taken together with injuries, these are responsible for about 70 per cent of all deaths.
He noted that NCDs and their risk factors are closely linked to chronic poverty and contribute to poverty. “They also disproportionately affect the poor and disadvantaged in low- and middle-income countries,” he stated. The cost of treatment can be impoverishing for people and families in the lowest income groups. In addition, behaviours associated with risk factors, such as tobacco use, weigh heavily on family incomes.
Mr. Stelzer stressed that the recent financial crisis and soaring food prices could have repercussions on household healthcare forcing people to turn to less expensive foods, which are typically high in fat and sugar and low in essential nutrients. “If these challenges are not addressed, the World Health Organization (WHO) forecasts that 25 million people will die from noncommunicable diseases in the Western Asia region between 2006 and 2015.”
“If there is one lesson that we have learned, it is that to be effective, the prevention and treatment of noncommunicable diseases must be mainstreamed into national development programmes and involve ministries and stakeholders beyond the health sector.”
Mr. Stelzer called for the creation of a multi-sectoral ministerial task force to galvanize the implementation of the WHO action plan on NCDs, adding that government leaders can be more proactive both in fostering more cross-sector collaboration within government and in reaching out to work more closely with civil society, academia and the private sectors.
Addressing the meeting, ECOSOC President Sylvie Lucas said that the Western Asia region has realized achievements in the area of health, adding that these will not suffice to reach the agreed development goals. “Addressing noncommunicable diseases, in particular cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases, is essential to achieve the Millennium Development Goals”.
Convened by the government of Qatar, in collaboration with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN-ESCWA), the meeting attracted several prominent decision-makers, health experts, business leaders and representatives of non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).
Qatar Public Health Minister Abdullah bin Khalid Al Qahtani opened the Doha meeting.
The meeting is organized as part of the 2009 Annual Ministerial Review (AMR) on global public health, to be held during the High-level Segment of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in Geneva this July. UN staff are invited to read the new postings on global public health on the online lecture series of the ECOSOC President's Corner .