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Noncommunicable Diseases Receive Vital Attention

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 11 2014 (IPS) - Less than two percent of all health-related development assistance is directed at noncommunicable diseases, despite the fact they are responsible for more than 60 percent of all deaths worldwide.

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched its Noncommunicable Diseases Country Profiles 2014 report, which documents the impact of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) on 193 countries.

Although many assume that NCDs like cardiovascular disease and cancer predominantly affect developed nations, the report found that “developing countries have the greatest vulnerability and the least resilience in preventing and controlling NCDs.”

The report was released in the midst of a two-day High-level Meeting of the U.N. General Assembly on the comprehensive review and assessment of the progress achieved in the Prevention and Control of NCDs.

Speaking at the opening of the NCD review meeting, John W. Ashe, current president of the U.N. General Assembly, remarked that “NCDs are now recognised by the WHO as the largest single cause of death and disability worldwide, responsible for some 36 million deaths” per year.

The current push against NCDs began in 2011 when the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Political Declaration on NCDs. To achieve the commitments of the declaration, the WHO designed an NCD Global Action Plan, composed of concrete actions for countries to take to reduce premature mortality from NCDs.

Countries pledged to reduce the use of alcohol and tobacco, halt the rise in diabetes and obesity and provide preventative therapy for heart attacks and strokes.

According to the NCD Country Profiles 2014 report, “while many countries have started to align their policies and resources with the nine global targets and the WHO Global NCD Action Plan 2013-2020, progress in countries has been insufficient and highly uneven.”

“A significant number of developing countries are struggling to move from commitment to action,” it says. “This is not the result of lack of political will. Rather, many developing countries don’t have the resources… needed to address the significant health and socioeconomic impacts of NCDs.”

At the report’s release, health officials from several countries also raised concerns over the misdistribution of health resources within countries. They argued for a shift of focus from disease treatment to disease prevention.

Health advocates highlighted the economic and social impact of NCDs on women at a side event to the NCD review.

According to a survey of 10,000 women from 10 different countries, “22 percent of the women said that more than 25 percent of their family’s income is spent on NCD’s,” said Nalini Saligram, founder of a global health non-profit called Arogya World.

Women shoulder a double burden, since they suffer from NCDs but also are the primary caregivers for family members with NCDs, the women’s health advocates agreed.

The Country Profiles 2014 report provides a comprehensive summary of the effect of NCDs, and disaggregates its measurements to account for the divergent impacts on men and women.

The new report documents what has changed since the WHO’s last report in 2011 and provides a benchmark for future improvements.

“I always say what gets measured, gets done,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO. “This is the only way to make sure the momentum is being kept.”

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