Coming to Grips With the Growing Global Threat of Non-Communicable Diseases

Posted by Krysten Carrera
June 18, 2011
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Non-communicable diseases (including cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes) represent an urgent and growing threat to global public health. In the United States, these diseases, known as NCDs, and other chronic diseases such as stroke account for 70 percent of deaths, limit the activities of tens of millions more Americans, and cost our economy billions each year.

In light of the urgent and global nature of NCDs, the United Nations in September will draw together health and policy leaders from around the world for a high-level meeting on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases.

In anticipation of that high-level event, Deputy Assistant Secretary Nerissa J. Cook of the State Department's Bureau of International Organization Affairs spoke recently at a conference of the Global Health Council on the multilateral aspects of the response to non-communicable diseases. In her remarks, Deputy Assistant Secretary Cook emphasized the importance of collaborative engagement among and between the United Nations, member states, and other stakeholders such as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), academia, and the private sector to tackle the rapidly increasing burden of non-communicable diseases around the world.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Cook said, “The growing prevalence of non-communicable diseases has significant health, economic, and social implications…If we are effectively to reverse the increased global rates, we will need to use all the tools at our disposal.” While acknowledging the key role that the United Nations plays as a convener and driver of action surrounding global health issues, she specifically called for the elevated engagement of United Nations specialized bodies, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and UNESCO, to manage successfully the challenges associated with non-communicable diseases.

The conference, which also featured medical professionals, researchers, other U.S. government agencies, and the private sector, underscored the role of evidence-based solutions for NCDs.

In her remarks, Deputy Assistant Secretary Cook outlined six principles or areas of action to guide multi-lateral action on NCDs. The principles include collaboration across policy sectors, prioritizing high-impact and affordable strategies, knowledge sharing, greater scale and geographic spread for NCD programs, and an enhanced media presence. Implementation of these strategies will help individuals to make more informed choices, and allow the global health community to “…use the fullest range of tools to promote healthy choices, adopt sound fiscal policies and regulations, and encourage voluntary or other measures for change,” she said.

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