by Xinhua writer Wang Jiangang
UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- Governments across the world should urgently implement the proven and cost-effective interventions to reduce noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), a non-governmental organization (NGO)'s deputy head told Xinhua recently.
Prior to the third UN high-level meeting on NCDs, which will be held on Sept. 27 during the general debate, this year's high-level session of the UN General Assembly, Adam Karpati, senior vice president of public health programs of the global health organization Vital Strategies, said that "NCDs are the world's leading killers and a serious threat to development in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), but they don't receive the level of attention, policy intervention or financing afforded to infectious diseases."
"That needs to change. There is a scientific basis for proven, cost-effective action to reduce NCDs, set out in World Health Organization (WHO)'s 'best buys' for NCD prevention," he noted.
Primary risk factors for NCDs are tobacco use (which kills 7 million people every year), unhealthy diets (including transfats, sodium and added sugars), alcohol consumption, hypertension, and poor air quality, he said.
"There is considerable scope for improvement in increasing the implementation of policies like WHO-recommended levels of tobacco taxes. This is the single most effective intervention to reduce tobacco use but currently covers only 10 percent of the world's population," he said.
"Taxation is also beneficial in obesity prevention. In Mexico, purchases of sugary drinks dropped by nearly 12 percent among the poorest households, in the two years after a tax on sugary drinks was implemented. Taxes on unhealthy products generate revenue to help fund health and social projects while reducing demand, a real win-win," he added.
Statistics show that 7 in 10 people worldwide die from cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung diseases, or 41 million people on average annually. This includes 15 million people dying from an NCD between the ages of 30 and 69 years; more than 85 percent of these "premature" deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Hundreds of millions of people are affected by mental, neurological and substance use disorders, including depression, alcohol dependence, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and dementia.
"The cost of inaction is unsustainable," Karpati said, adding that "NCD deaths are projected to increase to 44 million per year by 2020. Associated health and social care costs, lost income and lost productivity mean NCDs also create a significant economic impact, which is projected to lead to 47 trillion U.S. dollars in lost gross domestic product globally between 2011 and 2025."
"This is why it is so important for leaders at the high-level meeting to commit to and be accountable for time-bound, specific plans to reduce NCDs," Karpati said.
The magnitude of the threat posed by NCDs and mental health conditions is great. It is for this reason that world leaders, governments and stakeholders across all sectors of society are viewing the Third United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases as a turning point in the global fight against NCDs and promotion of mental health and wellbeing, he added.
The purpose of the meeting is to allow heads of state and government to conduct a comprehensive review of the progress achieved in reducing the risk of dying prematurely from NCDs, as agreed at the first high-level meeting in 2011 and reaffirmed at the second high-level meeting in 2014.
"The high-level meeting is a critical opportunity to advance policies to reduce these risk factors, like high taxes, graphic warning and nutritional labels, public education campaigns, marketing and sales restrictions on unhealthy products, smoke-free laws, eliminating transfats from the food supply, reducing sodium consumption, improving hypertension control and policies to encourage people to switch to cleaner fuels for cooking and eating," Karpati added.
This would help governments achieve their commitment in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to reduce preventable premature deaths by one-third by 2030, he said.
Vital Strategies works with governments and civil society -- primarily in LMICs -- to support the implementation of NCD prevention strategies and will work with partners during the high-level meeting to promote the benefits of policy action.