WHO Member States agree to 'accelerate and speed up' action on NCDs

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

photo credit: WHO / L.Cipriani
photo credit: WHO / L.Cipriani
Member States of the World Health Organization have agreed to accelerate and scale up action to prevent and treat noncommunicable diseases and Mexico says it is now a priority health issue.

Based on a WHO report​ compiled following the United Nations General Assembly's third High-level meeting on NCDs in October 2018​, Member States discussed and agreed on an action plan to tackle noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) at the 72nd​ World Health Assembly, held in Geneva, Switzerland at the end of May.

“Member States agreed a decision to accelerate and scale up action to prevent and treat noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), primarily cancer, diabetes, and heart and lung diseases, and to meet global targets to reduce the number of people dying too young from these diseases,”​ said WHO in its statement following the World Health Assembly.

In 2016, an estimated 15.2 million people aged between 30 and 70 years died from NCDs – 13% of which were in the Americas, according to WHO. NCDs remained the leading cause of premature death globally with cases rising due to population growth, it said.

'Promising signs' excluding obesity

During the Assembly, attendees heard there had been slow progress made in tackling NCDs since the first UN General Assembly High-level Meeting in 2011.

“There are promising signs that health outcomes are improving thanks to action on NCDs,” ​WHO said.

There had been, for example, a “downward trend”​ in the prevalence of raised blood pressure, heavy episodic drinking of alcoholic beverages and tobacco smoking.

In addition, many countries worldwide had introduced national standards for managing NCDs through a primary care approach. In 2017, 53% of WHO Member States, had at least one operational multi-sectoral national policy, strategy or action plan in place versus just 19% in 2010. Treatment interventions in these countries, including for hypertension, had also progressed.

However, WHO said prevalence of obesity had still not been tackled, with levels rising globally in adolescents from 14% in 2010 to 17% in 2016; and in adults over 18 years from 36% in 2010 to 39% in 2016.

Mexico – NCDs one of 'greatest challenges' facing health sector

Mexico's official statement presented at the World Health Assembly acknowledged NCDs were one of the “greatest challenges facing the health sector”.

The prevalence of obesity and overweight in Mexico in both adults and children, for example, was now the highest in the world, it said, and prevalence of diabetes among women and the elderly had also increased.

Mexico would therefore “rethink public strategies” ​on NCDs and place the issue as a priority in its public health policy plan.

“Finally, the Mexican governments' commitment to promote physical activity is not limited to improving health but also to its importance as a factor of social cohesion, and in the search for new ways to develop the well-being of the population,”​ it said.

In April, this year, the High-level Commission of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) also acknowledged the importance of addressing noncommunicable diseases​.

photo 2 credit WHOA. Tardy
Photo: WHO/A. Tardy

Assisting and monitoring private sector progress

WHO said it would publish a technical note later this year, outlining indicators for countries to annually measure progress on the commitments made, and also develop a delivery plan to meet “increasing demand for technical assistance”​ in fulfilling commitments.

It was also working on an approach where progress made by food and beverage companies on nutrition targets and development of healthier products could be registered and published.

Monitoring of progress made by the private sector would rely on a WHO-convened consortium of institutions, WHO said, independent from the food and beverage industry.

“Unhealthy diet is one of the risk factors that can be addressed by the combined action of government regulatory approaches and private-sector voluntary commitments,”​ it said.

The fourth UN General Assembly High-level meeting on the prevention and control of NCDs will be held in 2025.

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