United Nations Meeting On Noncommunicable Diseases: “A Make Or Break Moment”

After falling short of achieving commitments made at the first and second United Nations high-level meetings on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in recent years, the third high-level meeting on NCDs taking place next week presents an opportunity for world leaders to either step up their response, or risk falling further behind, according to stakeholders.

The Third UN High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases will take place on 27 September at UN headquarters in New York. At the meeting, world leaders – in the company of celebrities and business luminaries – will review progress since the previous high-level meetings, and will renew commitments to respond to the global NCD epidemic.

The political declaration on NCDs, detailing the political commitments of member states to dedicate funds and to take action on NCDs, was finalised this week, and is available here.

At least 52 presidents and prime ministers have confirmed that they will attend the NCD high-level meeting as of 29 August, which “is already more than the 34 Heads that attended the 2011 HLM and a significant improvement from the zero that attended in 2014,” according to an NCD Alliance blog referencing a World Health Organization (WHO) list.

NCDs “including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease, are collectively responsible for almost 70% of all deaths worldwide. Almost three quarters of all NCD deaths, and 82% of the 16 million people who died prematurely, or before reaching 70 years of age, occur in low- and middle-income countries,” according to the WHO website.

NCD Alliance on the High-Level Meeting and Political Declaration

Health Policy Watch reached out to the NCD Alliance, a global network of NCD stakeholders, for their perspective on the NCD high-level meeting and the NCD declaration, and received written responses from Katie Dain, CEO of NCD Alliance.

“This is a make or break moment,” Dain said.

“The commitments in the 2011 and 2014 documents have, by and large, not yet been achieved by any Member State. In fact, all evidence points to the same unpleasant reality: that if the current pace of progress continues unabated, by 2030 the agreed Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target to reduce NCD mortality will remain a distant reality, failing millions of people and challenging the achievement of all other SDG targets and goals within and beyond health,” she said.

At a time when addressing NCDs requires an “ambitious document” to “reinvigorate the global NCD response,” according to Dain, “the Political Declaration that will be adopted by world leaders is overall, largely under-ambitious, non-committal and lacks teeth. What is needed is commitments to action – and to resources – to reach the targets already set by global leaders for 2025 and 2030. The Political Declaration will fall a long way short of getting the world closer to those goals,” she said, noting that the NCD delcaration does not include any “specific commitment or targets on addressing the global resource gap.”

G77 on the Global NCD Response

A representative of the G77, a group of 77 developing countries in the United Nations, made a statement on the global NCD response at the adoption of a 2 July resolution [pdf] on NCDs at the UN headquarters in New York. Excerpts from this statement are included below.

“In 2015, the international community has committed to ‘reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being’.”

“Yet, our global response to NCDs remains an area of particular challenge since the current level of progress is insufficient to meet the 2030 relevant goals and commitments made under the High Level Meetings on NCDs in 2011 and 2014. Lack of capacity and near zero increase in ODA [Overseas Development Assistance] to address the issue as well as industry interference were previously highlighted by the Secretary General as key challenges.”

“Non Communicable diseases pose an enormous burden on all countries, however these costs are particularly challenging for developing nations, especially as they have to face exorbitant costs of health technologies.”

Obstacles to Action on NCDs

The four time-bound commitments made at the 2014 high-level meeting on NCDs were to (1) set national NCD targets, (2) develop a national plan, (3) reduce risk factors for NCDs, and (4) strengthen health systems to respond to NCDs, according to a 2018 report [pdf] by the WHO Independent High-level Commission on Noncommunicable Diseases.

“Commitments that have been made have not been translated into legislative and regulatory measures, sustained investments, or in financing for NCD programmes consistently across Member States,” according to the report.

While there are proven interventions for NCDs, many countries have been slow to implement them. This is due to a number of reasons, and the report identified the main obstacles:

  1. lack of political will, commitment, capacity, and action
  2. lack of policies and plans for NCDs
  3. difficulty in priority-setting
  4. impact of economic, commercial, and market factors
  5. insufficient technical and operational capacity
  6. insufficient (domestic and international) financing to scale up national NCD responses
  7. lack of accountability

High-Level Meeting Logistics

A preliminary programme [pdf] details the plan for the 27 September High-Level Meeting on NCDs. It will include plenary segments and two multi-stakeholder panels. The description of the two multi-stakeholder panels from the preliminary programme are included below.

“Panel 1: Strengthening health systems and financing for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases, on each country’s path towards achieving universal health coverage, including through sharing evidence-based best practices, scientific knowledge and lessons learned.”

“Panel 2: Opportunities and challenges in engaging Governments, civil society and the private

sector at the global, regional and national levels to promote multi-sectoral partnerships for the

prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases and the promotion of healthy lifestyles.”

The keynote address will be delivered by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the WHO global ambassador for non-communicable diseases and Bloomberg Philanthropies founder.


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