Hundreds of influential and accomplished people from around the world are gathering overseas as I type, and not for the British royal wedding. They are convening in Moscow for the First Global Health Ministerial Meeting on Healthy Lifestyles and Noncommunicable Disease Control, where they will survey the global toll of cancer, heart and respiratory diseases, diabetes, and others, share best practices in community and national policies, and ask for more and stronger prevention and control efforts on a global scale.
American Cancer Society chief executive officer, John R. Seffrin is attending the conference, and participating in a roundtable discussion on the role of civil society organizations in mobilizing countries to fight these diseases. He will discuss successes and challenges the American Cancer Society has seen, and will prescribe a way forward for the Society and similar groups in the United States and around the world to work together.
This year is shaping up to be a pivotal one in the worldwide fight against NCDs, with new data available, and steps like the conference in Moscow, and the United Nations High Level Meeting planned for September, immediately preceding the General Assembly. The goal of the UN meeting is to develop a global response to the growing threat of NCDs, and it is only the second meeting of this type to focus on a global health issue. The first such meeting took place in 2001 and is largely credited with raising the profile of HIV/AIDS and mobilizing a global response to the disease.
As for the newly available data, I am referring to the World Health Organization’s Global Status Report on Noncommunicable Diseases, which was released today. The report notes that toll of NCDs as a group has been devastating, and it has only grown in the year since I wrote this blog post about the lack of funding for proven interventions to prevent many of these diseases. However, the report also notes that prevention and control are not only possible, but cost-effective. Some of the findings from the report:
• NCDs now cause 63 percent of all deaths worldwide, which translated to about 36 million people in 2008.
• Low- and middle-income countries are hardest hit by NCDs, with 80 percent of these deaths occurring among their populations.
• The proportion of people dying younger from NCDs is also much greater in low- and middle-income countries, where 29 percent of these deaths occur in people under age 60. In high-income countries, only 13 percent of NCD deaths occur before age 60.
• Many of these diseases can be entirely or largely prevented with individual and population level interventions, and the report lists several “Best Buys” in each category.
In addition to their human toll, these diseases wreak havoc on family budgets and national economies. Many millions of families and individuals in resource-poor countries fall into poverty each year because they must pay for treatment for noncommunicable diseases. According to a report by the American Cancer Society and Livestrong, just two of these diseases – cancer and heart disease – resulted in over $1.6 trillion in economic losses from premature death and disability in 2008. That number may be double when direct medical costs are included.
Despite the crushing impact of NCDs, and the fact that proven interventions are within reach in much of the world, programs to address these diseases receive less than three percent of all development assistance that is invested in health programs globally each year. There is a lot of room for meaningful progress. Hopefully, the First Global Health Ministerial Meeting on Healthy Lifestyles and Noncommunicable Disease Control will be a major step in moving NCDs further up the list of global public health priorities.