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Big Week for Non Communicable Diseases

April 25, 2011 | Jeff Meer | Dialogue4Health

This week, the World Health Organization (WHO) has organized two meetings in Moscow related to the rising tide of non communicable diseases (NCDs). The first, on April 27, will be a "Global Forum on NCDs," at which approximately 180 individuals from civil society, including the private sector and academia, from around the world will gather. Also at the meeting, the WHO will release its first-ever "Global Status Report on NCDs," which is expected to provide new information on the extent of the epidemics, and what nations can do to stop cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and chronic lung diseases.

Attendance to the Global Forum has been by invitation. Then on April 28-29, at least 80 Ministers of Health, including U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sibelius, will debate a Moscow Declaration at the First Global Ministerial Conference on Healthy Lifestyles and Non-Communicable Disease Control. The Ministerial is open only to participation by government delegations, the World Bank, and other UN agencies.

A major focus of the Declaration, a draft of which has already been released, is expected to be prevention. Beyond laying out the scope of the problem, the Declaration also contains a "commitment to action" section, listing a number of steps for governments, Health Ministries, and global organizations to take. One important step would be to link progress on NCDs to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)that nations adopted as global targets in 2000. The MDGs are set to expire in 2015, although many observers expect that the commitment to the eight goals will be renewed or updated by the time the clock runs out in less than four years.

While simply having a goal does not assure it will be achieved (targeted reductions in maternal mortality, for example, appear to be seriously lagging), this can galvanize action and help prioritize resources. And concerning resources, another important step for governments will be to include discrete amounts for NCD prevention, detection, treatment, and care in national budgets.It seems obvious that governments the world over would want to do this, given that these four diseases account for at least 60 percent of global deaths. However, this is by no means a certain outcome. Governments will also be under pressure to acknowledge the effect that poverty has on the incidence and progression of NCDs. Without an effort to understand the "social determinants of health," it is unlikely that sustainable progress on NCDs will take place.

Jeff Meer is PHI's special advisor for global health. Follow the global health team on Twitter @PHIglobalhealth