What causes 63% of all deaths in the world? If you guessed AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria, you'd be wrong. It's actually non-communicable diseases, with the top four being cancer, diabetes, heart disease and lung disease. It costs governments billions of dollars in both healthcare costs and loss in worker productivity, and that's just one of the many reasons why a delegation of heads of state, ministers of Foreign Affairs and Health, and representatives from NGOs (non-governmental organizations) met at the UN in New York City last week.
It may sound like just another day at the office for politicians, but a UN Summit is actually a pretty big deal! The first (and last) time the UN's General Assembly met to discuss a health issue was in 2001, when a special session of high-level delegates discussed how to proactively fight the alarming epidemic of AIDS. And yet despite the overwhelmingly dangerous impact that non-communicable diseases have on society, the UN Summit on Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) ended with more of a whimper than a bang.
NCDs are expected to cost the world $47 trillion by 2030! — yet it ended up being a huge struggle to get governments on board with targets for action.
Although a declaration adopted at the UN Summit laid out the economic and social importance of eradicating chronic disease, it didn't actually provide concrete targets. Instead, this political declaration included suggestions, such as promoting healthier diets, tobacco-free workplaces, access to cancer screening programs, and breast-feeding for about six months from birth. But the declaration did not set any actual metrics to show progress, such as reduction in mortality by a certain deadline. It's one thing to say you're going to do something, but quite another to actually implement a method to measure the promised outcomes!
"This was always going to be complex," says Ann Keeling, CEO of the International Diabetes Federation and Chair of the Non-communicable Disease Alliance. "The Summit was about four diseases and four common risk factors. Governments were slow to establish their political positions. Many governments were not up to speed on these issues. The Summit has brought them up to speed. This was one reason why governments ran out of time when agreeing on targets. They have now deferred this to 2012." One example of a measurement is in reducing deaths by 25% by 2025, as promoted by the advocacy hashtag #NCDs25by2025 that went viral on Twitter in the weeks before the Summit.
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