United Nations agency head calls for swift measures to stop diabetes and other diseases

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UNDP Head Ms. Helen Clark
Former Prime Minister of New Zealand and present UNDP – United Nations Chief Administrator Ms. Helen Clark speaks at the third Non-Communicable Disease Summit Roundtable in September, 2011. Image: Paulo Filgueiras/UNDP

(WNN) London, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM: The UNDP – United Nations Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark called Monday for swift, firm measures to halt a global surge in diseases such as cancer and diabetes, saying they belong “permanently on the global development agenda.”

“Failure to curb the growing epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) now will lead to a significant toll on human life and well-being, and great strain on health systems and family and public budgets,” she said, speaking at the launch of a new series on NCDs by UK medical journal The Lancet.
“By placing NCDs permanently on the global development agenda, people’s lives, opportunities, and future prospects will improve—advancing sustainable human development overall,” she said, adding that the global response to HIV/AIDS suggests early intervention can decisively alter the trajectory of an epidemic.
“Just as health shapes development, development shapes health. Poor health impedes lifting human development, while the conditions in which people live and work impact health and well-being,” she said. “Inequalities in health outcomes tend to mirror inequalities and inequities more broadly everywhere.”
“At UNDP we believe NCDs pose a significant threat to improving and sustaining human development progress in the 21st century,” she said. “NCDs, and their associated illnesses and suffering, stand in the way of people’s aspirations, freedoms, and capabilities to lead lives they value.”
NCDs moreover can quickly push families into poverty when adequate health care and social protection are unavailable, forcing children to leave school, sapping productivity, and imposing a tremendous economic burden at every level.
One recent World Economic Forum-Harvard School of Public Health study suggests that over the next 20 years NCDs will cost more than US$30 trillion, representing 48 percent of global economic output in 2010 and pushing millions of people below the poverty line.
‘Small set of clear targets’ needed
The Lancet argues that prevention and control of NCDs should be one of the forthcoming benchmarks, now widely under discussion, that will succeed the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which aimed to eradicate global poverty and associated ailments by 2015.
Clark, a former Health Minister and Prime Minister from New Zealand, suggested a broad goal such as “universal health” or “maximizing healthy life,” comprising clear targets such as progress in assuring universal health coverage and tackling the specific drivers of ill health.
“A key lesson from the experience of working with the MDGs is the need for focus on a small set of clear targets,” she said.
In addition to universal health coverage, this might include addressing socioeconomic determinants of health, as stigma and discrimination rooted in law and policy “have profound impacts on health status and whether people access health services when they are readily available.”
Policy affects risk patterns such as consumption of tobacco, alcohol, and unhealthful foods, and relevant policies cut broadly across agriculture, trade, law, and taxes, she said. “Similarly, preventive behaviors such as physical activity can be impacted by public policy in areas as wide-ranging as sport and recreation, transport, and urban planning.”
A UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting in 2011 declared NCDs a major challenge to development and threat to achieving the MDGs. Leaders agreed these diseases—from diabetes and heart disease to cancer, depression, asthma, and addiction—threaten economies and “may lead to increasing inequalities between countries and populations.”
The 2010 Global Burden of Disease study cites a 32 percent decline in the burden from MDG-related disorders from 1990-2010 and suggests this is largely the result of increased global attention to these issues, including child mortality. But it also noted that in 2010, 65 percent of 52.8 million deaths could be attributed to NCDs, while 54 percent of disability-adjusted life years worldwide were caused by NCDs in 2010—up from 43 percent in 1990.
Editor Richard Horton of The Lancet Medical Journal, was featured on Youtube in a recent January 2013 summit event hosted by The Rockefeller Foundation, in conjunction with Peking Union Medical College. Horton outlined important solution-based answers to some of today’s most important challenges with sustainable healthcare worldwide.
“A healthy population is going to depend on a healthy planet…” outlined Horton during the Rockefeller Foundation summit. “…What’s driving death in the world today? Two things – population growth and population aging. And two aspects to this are very very important. Population growth means that actually we are seeing increases, to take one example, increases in child mortality and newborn mortality in many countries of the world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, not reductions as is often the projected message. And secondly, an aging society is driving disability. And these two forces I think of population growth and an aging population in society creating disability are going to create a revolution in the way that we are going to have to think about health and the provision for health services,” Horton continued