Stronger Global Roadmap to Tackle NCDs is Finally Passed
WHA76: Committee A finally passes NCD plan

New global guidelines to tackle non-communicable diseases (NCDs) were finally passed by the World Health Assembly on Friday afternoon after a mammoth day-and-a-half of member states’ inputs.

The guidelines update the World Health Organization’s (WHO) “Best Buys” published in 2017 and focus on the four key risk factors for NCDs – tobacco, alcohol, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity – and the four main associated diseases – cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory disease. 

Earlier in the week, Bente Mikkelsen, WHO’s Director of NCDs, explained the key changes adopted on Friday to what she described as an “implementation roadmap” to tackle NCDs, which are responsible for three-quarters of global deaths.

“In 2017, we had a total of 88 interventions, and 39 of them had cost-effective estimates,” Mikkelsen told the event convened by the NCD Alliance and Vital Strategies.

“We now have 90 interventions, and 58 interventions with cost-effectiveness estimates. And also very importantly, in 2017, we only looked at [evidence from] 20 countries, and today we have 62 countries grouped in all three income categories.”

Twenty-eight interventions are considered to be the most cost-effective and feasible for implementation in comparison to 16 recommended in 2017.”

These include taxes on sugary drinks, curbs on the marketing of unhealthy products and warning labels.

Vital Strategies’ Dr Nandita Murukutla described the interventions that are “inexpensive for governments to implement, including those that target behavioural risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diets, alcohol consumption and inadequate physical activity”.

“The effectiveness of excise taxes, marketing restrictions and labelling policies, for instance, have been demonstrated to reduce the consumption of unhealthy products,” added Murukutla, Vice President of Global Policy and Research.

“Were governments to adopt the recommendations as official policies, they could, in a unified and coordinated approach, significantly reduce the proliferation of unhealthy products and make an impact on the growing trajectory of NCDs, including heart and lung disease, diabetes, and cancers,” she added.

However, NCD advocates believe that the “Best Buys” need to be further strengthened to prevent interference in health policy by industries selling products that harm people  – tobacco, alcohol, ultra-processed food and fossil fuel.

“The industries that produce and market these products are more interested in profit than in healthy people and healthy communities,” said José Luis Castro, President and CEO of Vital Strategies, at the WHA side event hosted by his organisation and the NCD Alliance.

Castro believes that “Best Buys” should be modified to include “more explicit recommendations against corporate influence” because “corporate influence worldwide has been identified as the main reason why Best Buys’ implementation falls short”.

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