New task force to accelerate action to combat non-communicable diseases


WASHINGTON, United States, Thursday June 18, 2015 –A group of agencies concerned about the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) on human and economic development has launched a new task force to accelerate multisectoral action for prevention and control of NCDs in the region.

“Cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic lung diseases are the leading killers in the Americas and around the world, and tackling them requires collective efforts and multisectoral approaches, such as the alliance we are launching,” Carissa F. Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) said yesterday.

PAHO/WHO will chair the new Inter-American Task Force on NCDs, working collaboratively with the Organization of American States (OAS) and other partners including the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the World Bank.

The task force will support countries in Latin America and the Caribbean with policy advice, technical assistance, resource mobilization and capacity-building while also facilitating a common and harmonized approach, optimal use of resources, and networking and information exchange among agencies of the Inter-American system and partner institutions to ensure maximum impact.

NCDs, also known as chronic diseases, are diseases of long duration and generally slow progression.

In the Americas, some 4.5 million die each year from NCDs, representing more than 80 per cent of all deaths, of which 36 per cent are premature, that is, occurring in people under age 70. If no action is taken, deaths and disabilities from this silent epidemic are expected to increase, along with the burden they place on health systems and national economies.

“We must act now. NCDs are a burden not only on patients, their families and the health sector but on societies and economies as a whole. Fighting them requires creating health-supporting environments through partnerships with other sectors such as agriculture, education and trade. These are the types of action we will promote jointly with other agencies of the Inter-American system as we work together to save lives,” said Etienne.

Most deaths from NCDs are related to common risk factors, principally tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity. Exposure to these risk factors can be modified through multisectoral policies and actions. These include policies for universal health coverage and universal social protection, incentives to increase production and availability of healthy foods, educating children about healthy eating and physical activity, and urban planning that promotes public spaces for recreation and physical activity.

They also include legislation and regulations intended to reduce consumption of tobacco, alcohol, salt, sugar and trans fats–measures that are considered NCD “best buys” due to their cost-effectiveness. The global cost of implementing these best buys is estimated at US$11.2 billion, representing an annual investment of only US$1-$3 per person.

“Our citizens’ health and well-being are at the center of the OAS’s rights and equity agenda. Non-communicable diseases need be addressed comprehensively. That’s why collaboration across government, institutions and sectors is key to reducing these diseases,” said OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, during the task force’s launch, which took place one day after the close of the 2015 OAS General Assembly.

Representatives of Brazil, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago also participated in the meeting to launch the new task force and presented successful experiences of multisectoral work in their countries.

In 2011, heads of state from around the world recognized the role and responsibility of governments in reducing non-communicable diseases through the Political Declaration of the High-level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of NCDs.

In 2013, the World Health Assembly endorsed WHO’s Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs, which seeks, among other things, a 25 per cent reduction in premature mortality from NCDs between 2013 and 2025. These global commitments were affirmed the same year in the Regional Plan of Action for the Prevention and Control of NCDs approved by the 52nd Directing Council of PAHO/WHO.

The new alliance will help the countries of the region mount a comprehensive response to NCDs, one of the major challenges for development in the 21st century, a statement from PAHO said.

Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)