Friday, September 23, 2011

Guest Commentary: Population Health on the World Stage: The UN High Level Conference on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs)

Rob Simmons, DrPH, MPH, MCHES, CPH

Director, MPH Program

Jefferson School of Population Health

For only the second time in its 66-year history, the first being in 2001 on HIV/AIDS, the United Nations held a high level (Heads of State and Ministries of Health) meeting of the General Assembly on a population health topic.

Jefferson School of Population Health (JSPH) was one of only eight US university schools to be invited to participate in this historic meeting representing the Civil Society and the NCD Alliance on the health and economic impact of non-communicable diseases (chronic diseases). Along with our colleague, Global Health Specialist Dr. Lucille Pilling, , I was honored to represent JSPH at this event in New York earlier this week.

The five major NCDs are those we are all familiar with in the U.S.: cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (CRDs), diabetes, and mental illness. The major NCD risk factors include poor diet and physical inactivity, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol use.

Currently, more than 60% of all deaths worldwide stem from NCDs. It is estimated that 80% of all NCD deaths occur in low and middle-income nations, up sharply from just under, 40% just twenty years ago.

NCDs have been established as a clear threat not only to human health, but also to development and economic growth. Once considered “diseases of affluence”, NCD’s have now encroached on developing countries, most of whom have limited health, education, and economic infrastructure to address the changing demographics in their countries.

A global analysis of the economic impact of NCDs recently released by the World Economic Forum and the Harvard School of Public Health reported that cumulative economic losses to low and middle-income countries are estimated to surpass US $7 trillion over the fifteen year period of 2011-2025 (an average of $500 billion per year). This yearly loss is equivalent to approximately 4% of these countries’ current annual output. The negative health and economic impact will put a major strain on the budgets of every country around the globe, especially low and middle-income nations.

For these reasons, world leaders came together for this two-day meeting to ratify a series of policies and action steps to address the burden of NCDs. Highlights included presentations from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization, 19 “Heads of State,” and leaders from a range of public and private foundations. Throughout the conference, collaboration between the public and private sectors of society was emphasized as the only viable, sustainable platform to reduce the growing and potentially devastating burden of NCDs around the world.

The UN High Level Conference on NCDs was only the first step in a multiple decades-long endeavor to avert a global health and economic crisis. Each nation, multi-national and national public and private organizations, and global business leaders were asked to pledge their political and economic support (to the best of their ability) to this global health initiative. Hopefully, over the next decade and beyond, we will be able to look back at this seminal event and recognize the importance of population health being on the world stage at this place in time.

To learn more about the UN High Level Meeting on NCDs and the global health NCD initiatives, here are some websites regarding the event and actions taken:

Some just released resources on NCDs include:

“The Global Economic Burden of Non-communicable Diseases”, Harvard School of Public Health, World Economic Council, September, 2011

“Scaling Up Action Against Non-communicable Diseases: How Much Will It Cost”, World Health Organization, 2011

“From Burden to “Best Buys”: Reducing the Economic Impact of Non-communicable Disease in Low- and Middle-Income Countries”, World Health Organization, World Economic Forum, 2011

“NCDs: Time for Change”, Global Health, Issue 12, Fall, 2011, Global Health Council

“A Call to Action on Health Promotion Approaches to Non-Communicable Disease Prevention”, International Union for Health Promotion and Education”, September, 2011

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