NCDs: An Urgent Issue

Nalini at the United Nations.

On the 19th of September 2011 the United Nations (UN) unanimously adopted a political declaration on NCDs. This historic action will change the face of global health as we know it and impact the lives of millions.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and chronic lung disease, are one of the 21st century’s greatest health and development challenges. Collectively, these chronic diseases are the leading cause of death in most regions of the world (except sub-Saharan Africa, where too they are expected to overtake mortality from infectious diseases by 2030). They cause two out of three deaths today, and by 2030 will cause five times as many deaths as HIV/AIDS, TB, and Malaria COMBINED.

NCDs: A Social Justice Issue
80% of deaths from NCDs occur in developing countries, where people have lower access to medicines, health care, and healthy lifestyles. NCDs can push families into poverty, and poverty in turn worsens NCDs. The opportunity to survive should not be defined by income and geography. Yet it is.

NCDs: A Threat to our Children’s Future
Our children are growing up sicker than previous generations due to forces outside their control. Low birth weight can predispose babies to getting diabetes and heart disease later in life. And marketing of fast food, sugary drinks, alcohol and tobacco to children and adolescents has led to the rising prevalence of NCDs. Children have a right to health and a life free of disease.

The Incredible Truth is That NCDs Are Preventable

Together physical inactivity and poor diets cause about half of the deaths (up to 17 million) from NCDs worldwide. By championing physical activity and better foods, we can have a significant and positive impact millions of lives.

Implementation of tobacco control strategies can prevent 5.5 million deaths per year, and salt reduction can prevent 8.5 million deaths at a cost of about 20 cents per person per year in China and India.

According to the WHO, eating a healthy diet, increasing physical activity and avoiding tobacco use can prevent:

  • 80% of premature heart disease
  • 80% of type 2 diabetes cases, and
  • 40% of cancers

In September 2011, the UN General Assembly held the first ever UN Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases. This was a big win for the global NCD community and an enormous opportunity for action. With millions of lives on the line, the time to act is NOW.

Myths and Facts About NCDs

Myth: Chronic disease affect mostly people in high income countries.
Fact: Four out of five chronic disease deaths are in low and middle income countries.

Myth: Chronic diseases affect mostly the elderly.
Fact: In low and middle income countries, middle-aged adults develop disease at younger ages, suffer longer, and die sooner than those in high income countries.

Myth: Low and middle income countries should control infectious diseases before they tackle chronic diseases.
Fact: While these countries continue to deal with the problems of infectious diseases, many are also experiencing a large increase chronic disease risk factors and deaths.

Adapted from “Widespread Misunderstandings about Chronic Disease – and the reality,” a fact sheet created by the WHO Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion project.

Learn more about NCDs

Publications on NCDs