Kiwi scientists to UN: Top 5 Priorities for Health

A review article published in the Lancet today puts forward health priorities aimed at tackling some of the worlds biggest killers – heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancers and chronic respiratory disease.

A team of nearly 100 international health experts, led by New Zealander Professor Robert Beaglehole, are calling on heads of state and governments to commit to a coordinated set of feasible actions and interventions.

NCDs (non-communicable diseases), mainly heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancers, and chronic respiratory disease, are responsible for two out of every three deaths worldwide and the toll is rising.

A landmark global alliance between leading scientists and four of the world’s largest NGOs brings together evidence from a 5-year collaboration with almost 100 of the world’s best NCD experts. They propose a short-list of five priority interventions to tackle the increasing global crisis.

1. Reducing tobacco use

2. Reducing salt use

3. Improving diets and physical activity

4. Reducing hazardous alcohol intake

5. Achieving universal access to essential drugs and technologies.

Just 5 months ahead of the UN High-Level Meeting (HLM) on NCDs, only the second of its
kind to focus on a global disease issue and with the potential to stimulate action globally as
well as nationally, The Lancet NCD Action Group and the NCD Alliance launch a clear set of commitments that they would like to see from the meeting.

Professor Robert Beaglehole (Emeritus Professor, University of Auckland) is the lead author of the Lancet review and has provided the SMC with comments on the importance of this research. Feel free to use these quotes in your articles.

“The United Nations will be holding a high-level meeting on non-communicable diseases (NCDs)  in September — that is heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. This meeting will be the first time that the UN has considered these conditions, which are leading causes of death around the world, responsible for 60 percent of all deaths.”

“This paper summarises the evidence on the cost-effectiveness of interventions, and makes the case — importantly — that you can prevent and treat these conditions very cheaply.”

“In it, we have a framework of suggestions for the United Nations, which we hope that member states will take into account when they’re deliberating and preparing the outcomes from this high-level event.”

What kind of weight will your advice carry with the UN?

“We are a group of [nearly one hundred] independent scientists who are making a case for the scientific evidence, which we hope will inform their discussions. Given that 192 UN member states will be convening, I guess there will be a lot of other people making a case as well. We certainly hope that this Lancet paper does carry some weight.”

Professor Sally Casswell (School of Public Health, Massey University), is a co-author on the paper and has provided some comments on the review and what it means for global health.

“The aim behind the recommendations for action made in the Lancet paper is to reduce NCD death rates by 2% per year which will avert an estimated 36 million deaths over 10 years.”

“This paper is designed to be a useful  background document for both the UN Summit and the forthcoming Ministerial level meeting on NCDs being held in Moscow in April 2011. It provides information about the size of the problem but also includes clear recommendations for affordable actions which will make a difference to countries’ experience of NCDs.”

“The fact that the forthcoming UN Summit, only the second of its kind to focus on a health issue,  is targeted on reduction of NCDs is an indication of their global reach.”

Specifically regarding alcohol, which is a topical New Zealand issue and also Prof Casswell’s area of expertise:

“The paper points out that globally alcohol consumption leads to 2·3 million deaths each year 60% of which are due to NCDs and has adverse health, social, and economic effects. Alcohol is a little different from other major risk factors for NCDs in the extent to which harms go beyond premature mortality and contribute to disability and impact on younger people, often through injury and violence. The harm associated with alcohol use also goes beyond the drinker and recent New Zealand research, funded by the Health Research Council and cited in the Lancet paper, quantifies the negative impact of heavy drinkers on the well being and health status of other people.”

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