In public health interventions, as with other kinds of interventions, recognizing that a problem exists is the first step toward successfully solving it. Today, the United Nations seems poised to take the major step of recognizing that non-communicable diseases – which include cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and others – are a problem that governments and advocates the world over must come together to address. The body will vote on a resolution calling for a summit to “develop strategic responses to these diseases and their repercussions.”
Our chief executive officer, John R. Seffrin, along with the CEOs of the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association, has written an op-ed for CNN.com urging the United States and other governments to vote in favor of holding the summit. Non-communicable diseases cause 60 percent of deaths globally, but as a group receive about one percent of health funding.
What are some of the repercussions of non-communicable diseases in different parts of the world? There is both a devastating human toll, and a severe drag on economies. Much of the suffering is in low- and middle-resource countries, where 80 percent of global deaths, or 28 million, occur each year. From the op-ed:
- In Mexico, 75 percent of deaths are attributable to noncommunicable disease.
- In India, two fifths of deaths were from noncommunicable disease in 1990; by 2020, it is projected to increase to 66 percent.
- According to the World Health Organization, the costs of heart disease, stroke and diabetes alone could reduce the gross domestic product in Russia, China and India by 1 to 5 percent within five years. In these countries, the cumulative loss in national income from chronic disease between 2005 and 2015 could exceed $1 trillion.
Why is the UN vote so important in stemming the damage caused by this group of diseases? Again, from the op-ed:
This summit would raise the profile of noncommunicable diseases on the global stage, mobilize the international community to take action and secure the commitment of heads of state to address this neglected epidemic of epidemics. It was a similar meeting in 2001 that paved the way for an international response to the HIV/AIDS crisis.
Recognizing the problem is extremely important. This summit, if approved, will set the stage for a cooperative global effort against a neglected epidemic.