Countdown To The UN Summit On NCDs Begins: A Time To Start Raising Your Voices

With less than 100 days left for UN High-Level Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) to begin in New York, the NCD Alliance has called upon all those concerned, to make themselves heard by heads of state and health decision makers to make concerted efforts to control this menace. The leaders of the founding partners of the NCD Alliance (which include the International Diabetes Federation, the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, the Union for International Cancer Control and the World Heart Federation) recently launched together a ‘100 Days of Action’ campaign in preparation for the UN Summit on NCDs, to be held in New York on 19-20 September 2011.

Coming ten years after the UN General Assembly on HIV/AIDS, this UN Summit on NCDs will provide an opportunity to unite the global community in addressing this serious health and development  issue which is also a major cause of poverty. NCDs are no longer a problem of developed countries alone, and now affect both rich and poor, and increasingly hit people in their productive years resulting in high economic costs to society.

According to the Global Status Report on Non Communicable Diseases 2010 released this year by the World Health Organization, of the 57 million global deaths in 2008, 36 million (63%) were due to NCDs, principally cardiovascular diseases (17 million or 48% of NCD deaths), cancers (7.6 million, or 21% of NCD deaths), asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), (4.2 million), and diabetes (1.3 million). Data reveals the growing and disproportionate impact of the epidemic in lower resource settings. Nearly 80% of these NCD deaths (29 million) occurred in low- and middle-income countries. Over 80% of cardiovascular and diabetes deaths, and almost 90% of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, occur in low- and middle-income countries. More than two thirds of all cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. NCDs also kill at a younger age in low- and middle-income countries, where 29% of NCD deaths occur among people under the age of 60, compared to 13% in high-income countries.

Téa Collins, Executive Director of the NCD Alliance, rightly believes that, “The next few weeks are crucial as the Outcomes Document for the UN Summit is being drafted and negotiations are taking place on the potential outcomes. The NCD Alliance urges you to say loud and clear that neglect of NCDs is an outrage.”

WHO projections show that NCDs will be responsible for a significantly increased total number of deaths in the next decade. NCD deaths are projected to increase by 15% globally between 2010 and 2020 (to 44 million deaths). The greatest increases will be in the WHO regions of Africa, South-East Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean, where they will increase by over 20%.

In the words of Professor Jean Claude Mbanya, President of the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), “NCDs were responsible for 63% of all global deaths in 2008. This is not just a statistic; it is the death of 36 million people. With the incidence of NCDs predicted to rise by 17% over the next ten years worldwide, we must work together to ensure it is world leaders who attend the Summit and agree to a concrete set of commitments that will result in sustained action.”

“We believe that the integration of NCDs into national and international development agendas is imperative, particularly for low- and middle-income countries,” says Dr. Eduardo Cazap, President of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC). “Global actions must focus special attention on vulnerable populations. The UN Summit is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put NCDs on the global development agenda.”

 Despite their rapid growth and inequitable distribution, much of the human and social impact caused each year by NCD-related deaths could be averted through well-understood, cost-effective and feasible
interventions. NCDs are caused, to a large extent, by four behavioural risks: tobacco use, unhealthy diet, insufficient physical activity and harmful use of alcohol. But effective interventions, such as tobacco control measures and salt reduction, are not implemented on a wide scale because of inadequate political commitment, insufficient engagement of non-health sectors, lack of resources, vested interests of critical constituencies, and limited engagement of key stakeholders.

As the global voice representing those living with or affected by NCDs, the NCD Alliance is trying to focus on these issues by leading the global civil society movement against premature death and preventable illness and disability from NCDs. It builds coalitions, develops consensus, produces evidence and advocates for solutions to the NCD crisis. NCD Alliance members are trying to make a difference in hundreds of ways in the next less than 100 days – such as advocating to heads of government through face-to-face meetings and open letters with thousands of signatories, communicating via social media platforms, encouraging NCD survivors to speak out, and hosting specific events.

The Proposed Outcomes Document of the NCD Alliance aims to garner global action and support to reduce NCD deaths by at least 2 per cent a year. This can be achieved with commitments by governments, NGOs, and private sectors to put in place costed national NCD strategies for prevention, early detection, treatment and care of NCDs. Control of tobacco is absolutely critical to reducing NCDs, and governments will have to take action through the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Alongside they will have to implement strategies to encourage physical activity and improve diet by reducing dietary salt, sugar, saturated and trans fats and harmful use of alcohol. Also, diagnosis/treatment of NCDs should be made available to all by integrating them into existing health system programmes. Maternal health and nutrition will have to be safeguarded to reduce NCDs in mothers and children. Innovative financing mechanisms and better procurement policies are also needed to invest in NCD programmes through domestic health funding and Overseas Development Assistance for low and middle income countries.

“Whether you are a member of a civil society organization or simply a concerned citizen, you can make your voice heard. Unlike many infectious diseases, we have the knowledge to prevent and treat NCDs. Addressing NCDs is a matter of committing the resources we already have, and ensuring that they are used to best advantage for those who currently have least access to NCD prevention and namely the poor,” concludes Dr. S Bertel Squire, President of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union). “We must use this Summit to urge world leaders to take action now on NCDs, to end the suffering and to forge a healthier future for all.”

Shobha Shukla - CNS
(The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS). She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She is also the Director of CNS Gender Initiative and CNS Diabetes Media Initiative (CNS-DMI). She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP. Email:, website:

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CNS Tobacco Control Initiative, India
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