Global pledge to avert 388 million deaths from chronic diseases

10 March 2008

A group of leading international health experts and activists has launched a call to action to confront the global explosion of chronic diseases which will claim 388 million lives in the next decade.

Members of the Oxford Health Alliance (OxHA), who come from academia, government, business, law, economics and urban planning, have signed the Sydney Resolution, which sets out the urgent measures required to halt the impact of preventable chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, many cancers and other tobacco related illnesses which are responsible for nearly 60% of the world’s deaths.

They have pledged a commitment to promote innovative and effective ways to build a healthier environment and prevent disease.

The resolution (see text below) identifies five key areas for action including:

  • healthy places;
  • healthy food;
  • healthy business;
  • healthy public policy; and
  • healthy societies.

Oxford Health Alliance Executive Director Professor Stig Pramming said the resolution would now be sent to influential world figures and organisations, including leaders of the G8 and G22 countries, the World Bank, the United Nations agencies and major donor organisations asking for their support. In addition, OxHA will recruit the support of individuals in a grassroots campaign to tackle chronic diseases.

Prof Pramming said, “This is everybody’s problem, which is why we have a moral obligation to bring it to the top of the world’s health and political agendas.

“Across the developed and developing world chronic diseases are running wild. The way we live now is making us sick: it’s making our planet sick and it’s not sustainable.”

The Sydney Resolution sets a framework for chronic disease prevention — for example, making cities walkable, more open spaces, making fresh food affordable and available and making workplaces healthier.

Oxford Health Alliance Trustee and Chairman of the Oxford Centre for Diabetes Prof David Matthews said, “At the end of the day, you might not be able to tell whether it was cycle lanes in your city or stairs in your buildings or labelling on food that had the best impact, but it doesn’t really matter. The likelihood is it will be a combination of those things that come together to improve the health of a nation.

“The private sector has a crucial role to play and needs to understand that good health is good business. Business can contribute firstly by aligning their products, services and advertising with good health and also by investing in their employees with workplace change and wellness programs,” Prof Matthews concluded.

The Sydney Resolution:
Healthy People in Healthy Places on a Healthy Planet

The way we live is making people sick.

It is also making our planet sick. It is not sustainable. We can do better.

The world is now facing the most serious challenges to human health.

The magnitude and complexity of these challenges require the broadest alliance and partnership of stakeholder groups to confront this growing and urgent problem.

Four preventable chronic diseases — heart disease/stroke, diabetes, chronic lung disease and cancer — account for 50% of the world’s deaths. Their underlying causes are tobacco use, physical inactivity and poor diet.

These preventable chronic diseases are at epidemic proportions. They are increasingly affecting younger people and cause physical disability, depression, and early death. There are immense costs to society in lost productivity and increased use of health services. The epidemic threatens economic stability in developed and developing countries alike.

Families striving to escape the poverty trap are pushed back into disadvantage and despair. The problem is similar to that of climate change in that it affects the whole world, is the result of our way of living and, crucially, can be reversed.

Urgent action is needed

There is a clear way forward. The four major chronic diseases can largely be prevented, but there is no simple or quick solution.

To achieve real change, it is necessary to bring together dedicated stakeholders from all parts of society. The development of how we live as societies, share opportunities, interact with the natural environment and how we design our cities, transport systems, food systems, work places and housing will fundamentally determine future patterns of health and disease.

We need health services focussed on prevention as well as cures and we need our world free of tobacco. We must fundamentally reshape our social and physical environments so that they are aligned with eradicating this epidemic of chronic disease.

The call to action

We call on the United Nations’ agencies, governments, corporations and businesses, donor agencies, professionals, consumers, non-government organisations and employee unions, civil society and individuals to collaborate in taking urgent action to halt the devastating global impact of chronic diseases. We know that change is possible for individuals and families, communities and nations and that the change will promote economic and environmental sustainability.

We need:

  • Healthy places: designing towns, cities and rural areas where it is easy to walk, cycle and play, with unpolluted open spaces and safe local areas that foster social interaction.
  • Healthy food: making healthy food affordable, and available to all.
  • Healthy business: engaging business in the agendas promoting healthy people, healthy places, healthy planet and making good health good business.
  • Healthy public policy: formulating comprehensive, innovative and ‘joined-up’ legislation and social and economic policies that promote health.
  • Healthy societies: addressing equity and socio-economic disadvantage.

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