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September 21, 2018

High Level Meeting on NCDs: Time for Governments to Commit To Action

Vital Strategies believes that every person deserves the protection of a strong public health system. We work to help governments enact policies and build capacity to stem preventable death and disease.

Addressing the global epidemic of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) is central to our work. NCDs account for 70 percent of the world’s deaths, killing 15 million people between the ages of 30 and 69—during what should be the most productive years of their lives—every year. The burden of this epidemic falls disproportionately on low- and middle-income countries, where 85 percent of these premature deaths occur. Beyond this already devastating toll, NCDs inflict lifelong pain and suffering on millions and perpetuate cycles of poverty, depriving people of livelihoods and saddling them with debt. Failing to address NCDs will seriously impede global development. Fortunately, the majority of NCD death and disease – from cardiovascular disease, cancers, respiratory diseases and diabetes – can be prevented with strong government action.

The United Nations High-Level Meeting on NCDs represents an important opportunity to provide a road map for countries to commit to the policy actions that are known to prevent NCDs.

On the eve of this meeting, we urge heads of state and governments to unite, and to show the political leadership needed to tackle this century’s leading killer. Unfortunately, while the political declaration on NCDs includes promising advances, it does not go far enough to address this crisis. Where the political document is vague, we urge governments to be concrete, focusing on the evidence-driven, readily implementable interventions proven to stem cancer, diabetes, and lung and heart disease. In particular, we urge governments to take up the mantle of the WHO Best Buys on risk factors for NCDs.

First, we call on governments to commit to implementing the proven, cost-effective WHO Best Buys, particularly taxes on unhealthy commodities. Taxes not only drive down consumption, they can also generate income for health programs. Especially when combined with other proven policy measures, tax increases can save millions of early deaths by NCDs.

Investments in NCDs improve health and promote economic development, and can stop a cycle of disability, chronic suffering, poverty, and death in low- and middle-income countries. Yet NCDs receive on average less than 2 percent of all health funding, an entirely insufficient amount. Funding from taxes could help fill this gap.

Second, we call on governments to implement policies that prioritize the well-being of society over industry profits. We urge governments to stand up to industry interference, especially around sugary beverages, tobacco and alcohol, as well as the provisions of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.

Finally, we suggest that cities, which can be engines for health, take action rather than waiting for national governments to act. From London to Bengaluru, we’re seeing cities drive progress against NCDs. Innovative measures across a range of NCDs and risky behaviors mean that hundreds of millions of urban dwellers are on track to living healthier lives. Much more is possible if cities act boldly.

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