The what, why and how of health and development

Non-communicable diseases: a high level UN meeting calls for cross-governmental legislation

Earlier this year I wrote an article on non-communicable diseases in developing countries, which was shortlisted to the top twenty amateur entries in the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition.

In September, a UN high level meeting was held to discuss NCDs, the second time a meeting of this kind has ever been held. The first was in 2001 on HIV/AIDS and sparked the formation of the Global Fund.

So great things were expected from September’s meeting, which many hoped would provide a rubber stamp of seriousness to the number one global health burden.

Key points that came out of the conference confirmed that uneven distribution of wealth, poverty and rabid urbanisation were among the causes recognised at contributing factors to the rise of NCDs. A grave concern is the tragic cyclical nature of the problem: non-communicable diseases worsen poverty by restricting peoples’ capacity to work and by stretching resources, whilst poverty in turn contributes to the continuing prevalence of NCDs.

The burden of this health problem on families and individuals was recognised and leaders were called upon to provide cross-government legislate for prevention and control.

“Why must this responsibility fall on head of state?” asks Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, when she addressed the assembly. “Because the problem is too broadly based to be addressed by any single government ministry.”

Addressing the conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and public health is also seen as a fundamental issue and calls were made to accelerate the implementation of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, including measures to reduce consumption and availability. A similar strategy on alcohol was also deemed as an important tool to reduce ill health.

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