WHO’s NCD Commission Lights a Fire Under Heads of State

A large yoga gathering hosted by a group of volunteer teachers in support of 'Mecenat Chirurgie cardiaque,' a cardiac surgery association which saves children's lives through funds raised at the Grand Palais and is celebrating it's 20th anniversary on October 9, 2016 in Paris, France.
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Volunteer teachers participate in a yoga class held to support of 'Mecenat Chirurgie cardiaque,' a cardiac surgery association in Paris, France. Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images/2016

Governments around the world will not reach the Sustainable Development Goal of sharply reducing premature deaths unless “urgent action” is taken, according to a WHO report published today in The Lancet.

The “Time to Deliver” report by the Independent High-Level Commission on Noncommunicable Diseases calls out countries for not living up to the pledges made in 2011 and 2014, which include setting national NCD targets and developing a national plan.

No country has met all 19 requirements, according to the report.

Cancer, diabetes, lung and heart diseases together kill 41 million people annually—almost three-quarters of all deaths. 15 million of those deaths are people between the ages of 30 and 70, according to WHO.

“We know the problem and we have the solutions, but unless we increase financing for NCDs, and demand all stakeholders be held responsible for delivering on their promises, we won’t be able to accelerate progress,” said Sania Nishtar, commission co-chair in a statement. “The NCDs epidemic has exploded in low- and middle-income countries over the last two decades. We need to move quickly to save lives, prevent needless suffering, and keep fragile health systems from collapsing.”

Despite the report’s formal tone, the commission seems to be expressing exasperation with national governments. It calls progress toward the goals “disappointing” and notes that 83 countries have made “poor or no progress” on deadlines for 4 key commitments.

In the opening message, commission co-chairs put heads of governments on notice: “They must deliver on their timebound promise to reduce, by one-third, premature mortality from noncommunicable diseases.”

The commission seems to be lighting a fire beneath the slow-moving governments with the realization that the current pace will fail to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 3.4 (by 2030, reduce by one-third premature mortality from noncommunicable diseases). The commission also wants to motivate leaders in advance of the third high-level meeting on NCDs hosted by the UN General Assembly on September 27 in New York.

Toward those ends, commission members spell out 6 key recommendations for government leaders. The top recommendation: Heads of state and government—not health ministers—should take charge of the NCD agenda because it crosses so many different government sectors. The commission also urged governments to set and carry out specific NCD priorities and revamp health systems to include NCD prevention as priorities.

The report also emphasizes the importance of addressing mental health issues, advising that prevention and treatment of “mental disorders [are] an integral part of action against NCDs.” The report notes that people with severe mental disorders live 10 to 20 years less than their peers on average, “largely owing to untreated NCDs.”

The report also notes that 300 million people live with depression, which is the leading cause of disability globally, and almost 800,000 people die from suicide annually.

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