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Bold Action and Explicit Commitment Needed To Reduce Non-Communicable Diseases

(New York, USA) – In advance of the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in September, global health organization Vital Strategies has joined more than 50 health experts to call for a bold, practical approach to reduce this global epidemic. Officials from ministries of health and the United Nations, leaders of civil society organizations, and academics have joined forces to co-sign a letter published in The Lancet today, which urges negotiators for the meeting to incorporate into the draft political declaration an action-oriented, eight-point agenda to accelerate progress.

“In adopting the Sustainable Development Goals, governments made a commendable commitment to reduce the burden of NCDs, but too little actual progress is being made,” said José Luis Castro, CEO and President of Vital Strategies and Executive Director of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. “Our eight-point agenda can turn commitment into action. It relies on policies proven to push industry to alter practices and to persuade consumers to modify behavior. As negotiators release the ‘zero draft,’ now is the time to incorporate these practical steps into the political declaration. We need this clear, brave and bold approach to enable governments to make their commitments to reduce NCDs and save lives.”

The cost of the continued lack of progress is too high. It’s estimated that NCDs kill 41 million people each year, 71 percent of all deaths globally. That burden falls disproportionately on vulnerable populations and countries with less well-developed health systems. More than 85 percent of premature NCD-related deaths (of people aged 30 to 69 years) occur in low- and middle-income countries. Without change, NCDs could cost the global economy $47 trillion by 2030. While better diagnosis and treatment of NCDs may help to reduce disability and death, policies that focus on prevention can have an even greater impact.

“I am proud to join such a distinguished and diverse group of over 50 experts, officials and civil society leaders to call for a bold political declaration on NCDs. We need a declaration that commits to practical measures to attain the ambitious targets the international community has previously agreed,” said Helen Clark. “As a former Prime Minister and Minister of Health, I know that we won’t see sufficient progress until heads of government assign responsibilities across ministries to deal with the drivers of NCDs, until governments adopt adequate legislative approaches to curb NCDs’ commercial determinants, and until NCDs are addressed in universal health coverage programs.”

From the Lancet: Eight-point agenda for member state high-level meeting negotiators:

• Assign accountability at the highest political levels

• Prioritize improving fiscal policies

• Mobilize additional financial resources

• Regulate the commercial determinants

• Address the growing impact of pollution and urbanization on NCDs, injuries, and mental health

• Support meaningful civil society engagement

• Uphold principles of equity, human rights, and gender equality

• Foster independent accountability

Vital Strategies joins partners in calling for the 2018 political declaration to focus on concrete measures that countries can adopt for reducing NCDs. This includes taxes on unhealthy products such as tobacco, alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages and sugary snacks. Effective regulation measures include mandating clear and accurate labeling, restricting marketing of harmful products (particularly to children), improving food formulation, and imposing fiscal measures to encourage the sale and consumption of healthier products.

“The international community is waking up to the extent of the threat posed by non-communicable diseases,” said Kent Buse of UNAIDS, another signatory to the Lancet letter. “We have united a group of 50 experts and policymakers as well as leaders of key NCD alliances around an evidence-informed agenda for consideration by the negotiators of the UN General Assembly political declaration on NCDs. We think decisive commitments are needed to prevent the further growth of the NCDs epidemic and mitigate its mounting attendant social, human and economic costs.”

The letter is available to view here.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health expert, please contact