It happened quietly, and it didn't make any headlines, but an agreement reached in Geneva last week represents a key step forward in the battle against some of the world's biggest killers: non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
On November 9, health officials representing member states of the World Health Organization agreed to a global monitoring framework and a set of voluntary global targets on NCDs, which are the leading cause of death worldwide, representing 63 percent of deaths annually, and 70 percent in the United States. For three intensive days, health officials held meetings to negotiate the final details of a strategy in the making since September 2011, when world leaders gathered at the UN General Assembly and agreed to the Political Declaration on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases. That Declaration energized and advanced the global commitment to NCDs, and for specifics on how we would monitor progress, the Declaration rightly asked WHO Member States to develop a framework of target and indicators. At the WHO in Geneva last week, we answered those questions through this framework agreement which will be submitted to the WHO governing bodies in 2013 for final adoption.
NCDs are the leading cause of death worldwide. This fact drove the WHO member governments to urgently complete this proposed framework. Another key factor that drove the urgent focus of the experts is the ever-increasing cost of health care, largely a result of NCD treatment. This framework will include targets on availability of essential medicines and other measures which will strengthen health care systems and address these challenges in the most efficient way.
The United States recognizes that involvement of the key stakeholders, including representatives of WHO member governments, civil society and private industry, is critical to our success in the fight against NCDs. To encourage this multi-sectoral approach, I co-hosted a series of roundtable discussions with the Union for International Cancer Control and other Geneva Missions to provide an opportunity for WHO member governments to hear directly from civil society and private sector about their concerns and hopes for the development of NCD targets and indicators. These meetings laid the groundwork to develop consensus among the WHO member governments with buy-in from civil society and industry.
The WHO's landmark agreement on NCDs is a remarkable demonstration of political will. By establishing a global monitoring framework based on nine voluntary benchmarks, and assessments of 25 risk factors and indicators, we have taken a historic next step towards global action to prevent cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other NCDs. I take great pride in the role of the United States in helping direct this effort, and in the end achieving a comprehensive approach to this significant global health challenge.