Leading NGOs call for international action to combat global epidemic
of non-communicable diseases
10 June 2009
The International Diabetes Federation (IDF), International Union
Against Cancer (UICC) and World Heart Federation (WHF) have jointly
called on the international community to address urgently the epidemic
of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), responsible for 35 million deaths a
The statement demands a substantial increase in funding for NCDs and
greater availability of essential medicines, among other urgent
responses, in a way to accelerate achievement of the health Millennium
Public health experts are concerned about the impact of the global
economic crisis and warn that the emerging epidemic of NCDs is
threatening to overwhelm healthcare systems worldwide unless action is
Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory
diseases cause 60% of all deaths worldwide, with four in every five of
these deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries.
NCDs are an under-appreciated cause of poverty and now present a
serious barrier to economic development. They are estimated to reduce
gross domestic product (GDP) by up to 5% in many low and middle-income
countries, dealing a double blow to fragile economies struggling in the
Professor Pekka Puska, President of the World Heart Federation
states: "We can no longer ignore the burden that cardiovascular disease,
together with the other NCDs including diabetes, cancer and chronic
respiratory diseases, is placing on countries that are least equipped to
deal with them.
"We urgently call on the international community to ensure that the
funding models applied to infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, TB and
malaria are expanded to stop the spiralling death rates from NCDs before
the most vulnerable are pushed further into the poverty trap.”
NCDs impact on the world
IDF, WHF and UICC are united by their concern with the consequences
of physical inactivity, tobacco use and poor diet, three avoidable risk
factors that contribute significantly to the NCDs responsible for 60% of
Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart
attack, stroke and amputation. The number of people living with diabetes
has increased considerably over the past 30 years.
In 1985, an estimated 30 million people worldwide had diabetes. A
little over a decade later, the figure had risen to over 150 million.
Today, according to IDF figures, it exceeds 250 million.
A further 300 million are at high risk of developing diabetes. Unless
action is taken to implement effective prevention and control
programmes, IDF predicts that the total number of people with diabetes
will reach 380 million by 2025.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death worldwide.
An estimated 17.2 million people die from CVD each year, and that toll
could increase to almost 20 million by 2015. The incidence of deaths
attributable to CVD continues to rise sharply, accounting for 30% of all
Around 80% of these deaths and 87% of related disabilities occur in
low and middle-income countries. Cardiovascular disease affects the
heart or blood vessels and includes heart disease, stroke and high blood
Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide. More than 11
million new cases are diagnosed each year, and about 8 million people
die from cancer – over 70% of them in low- and middle-income countries.
On current trends, 15.5 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in
2030, and about 12 million people will die from the disease. Yet, we
have more knowledge than ever before on how to bring cancer under
control. About one-third (30-40%) of all cancers can be prevented, a
further third can be cured (given early diagnosis and treatment), and
effective palliative care can be provided to patients.
In its 2009-2013 Action Plan for the Global Strategy for the
Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, the World
Health Organization identifies international partnerships as paramount
in the global struggle against NCDS.
WHO calls for concerted action on a global scale and identifies a key
role for non-governmental organizations. IDF, WHF and UICC have taken up
this call. Combined, the three organizations represent the interests of
730 member organizations in over 170 countries. They have joined forces
to create a powerful voice for change and urge the international
community to take action in the face of the NCD epidemic.
Professor David Hill, President of the International Union against
Cancer states: “Now, more than ever, we need to join efforts to give
cancer and the other NCDs the priority they deserve. The advantages that
stand to be gained from the strength of strategic international
partnerships, such as the one between our three organizations, will
contribute towards a more effective global response to NCDs.”
Call for action
The joint statement issued in Geneva was timed to coincide with the
meeting of the World Health Assembly last month. The organizations
highlighted their support for the WHO Action Plan and call for the
international community to:
- Ensure the availability of essential medicines for people
living with NCDs in low and middle- income countries
- Immediately and substantially increase financing for NCDs
- Integrate NCD prevention into national health systems and
the global development agenda
- Create a Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for
- Support a UN General Assembly Special Session on NCDs
WHO has shown that simple, cost-effective solutions exist to take on
the burgeoning epidemic of NCDs. If the international community acts
now, hundreds of millions of lives could be saved and the quality of
life improved for millions more.
Such action would bring the international community closer to
achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals. Failure to act will have
a detrimental effect on healthcare systems and economies worldwide.
Governments who invest in prevention now will be spared the overwhelming
costs of chronic care later.
Professor Martin Silink, President of the International Diabetes
Federation explains: “The world has not previously had to cope with an
epidemic of NCDs. Health systems will need to adapt fast to mobilize new
and existing resources to tackle the epidemic through prevention and
"The majority of people with non-communicable diseases like diabetes,
cardiovascular disease and cancer are responsible for most of their own
care most of the time. Health systems will need to support the role of
people with NCDs and see them as part of the solution.”
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